Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a complex disease with a multifactorial pathogenetic cascade that is still only partially understood. Important pathogenetic factors are gestational age at birth and birth weight. Potent postnatal factors are exposure to supplemental oxygen, slow weight gain and expression of angiogenic growth factors. Some of these crucial aspects of ROP pathogenesis will be discussed in this article and put into clinical context. With the introduction of intravitreal anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) treatment into ROP therapy, the pathomechanistic role of VEGF in ROP deserves a special focus. Apart from VEGF, other factors will be discussed that may precede VEGF upregulation and thus may represent targets for an earlier and potentially protective intervention. Among these insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) appears to be most prominent. Finally, factors such as postnatal weight gain will be discussed in light of their potential role as screening parameters and their ability to predict ROP severity.