Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness among adults in the western countries. It has been reported that neurodegeneration may occur in diabetic retinas, but the mechanisms underlying retinal cell death are poorly understood. We found that high glucose increased the number of cells with condensed nuclei and the number of TUNEL-positive cells, and caused an increase in the translocation of phosphatidylserine to the outer leaflet of the plasma membrane, indicating that high glucose induces apoptosis in cultured retinal neural cells. The activity of caspases did not increase in high glucose-treated cells, but apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) levels decreased in the mitochondria and increased in the nucleus, indicating a translocation to the nucleus where it may cause DNA fragmentation. These results demonstrate that elevated glucose induces apoptosis in cultured retinal neural cells. The increase in apoptosis is not dependent on caspase activation, but is mediated through AIF release from the mitochondria.