The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of ponalrestat, an aldose reductase inhibitor, on the progression of diabetic retinopathy. In this study, 62 patients with diabetes mellitus underwent a double-masked placebo-controlled clinical trial comparing the effect of ponalrestat 600 mg per day with a placebo on the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Both groups were comparable in terms of age, gender distribution, diabetes duration, metabolic control, and presence and severity of diabetic retinopathy. Seven-field stereo fundus photographs were performed at 0 (baseline), 12, and 18 months; 49 patients completed the study (26 in the ponalrestat group and 23 in the placebo group). In both treatment groups, a significant progression of diabetic retinopathy as evaluated by the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study classification was observed (Wilcoxon Rank-Sum Test, p less than 0.05). No difference was observed in the progression of retinopathy between the two treatment groups (p = 0.96). The number of microaneurysms increased in the two study groups (from 5.6 +/- 1.2 to 10.5 +/- 1.3 in the placebo group and from 10.3 +/- 1.4 to 12.7 +/- 1.4 in the ponalrestat group); however, the increase was statistically significant only in the placebo group (p less than 0.05). When the increase in the number of microaneurysms was evaluated by change of category of microaneurysm count, no significant difference was observed. We conclude that ponalrestat at a dose of 600 mg per day has no clinically significant effect on the progression of diabetic retinopathy.