We recorded pH in the extracellular space surrounding rod photoreceptors in the dark-adapted eye of the cat and during illumination with double-barreled H(+)-selective microelectrodes. A pH of 7.17 was recorded in the vitreous at the retinal surface of the dark-adapted eye and this became more alkaline during light adaptation. In dark adaptation, a pH close to 7.00 was recorded in a region of maximal acidity in the extracellular space surrounding rods in the outer nuclear layer (ONL). pH steeply alkalinized as the microelectrode was moved more distally towards the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and almost reached the pH of the arterial blood at the apical surface of the RPE. Illumination produced an intraretinal alkalinization that was largest (up to 0.2 pH units) in the ONL, maximal in amplitude at rod-saturating intensities, and that was sustained during steady background illumination. The light-evoked alkalinization was relatively slow in onset, having a time constant (1/e) of 64 sec, and took 8-12.5 min to return to the dark-adapted level after the offset of maintained illumination. These results show that acid production by cat rods is highest in the dark, reflecting a high rate of energy metabolism, and suggest that glycolysis is required to support the dark current. Illumination, by suppressing both glycolysis and respiration, alkalinizes the extracellular space surrounding rods. The substantial change in pH outside rods from dark to light could alter pH dependent properties of the interphotoreceptor matrix.