Rabbits were given an intravitreous injection of 5.0 x 10(5) rabbit retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, human RPE cells, or human dermal fibroblasts in one eye and an injection of vehicle alone in the other eye. Some rabbits were treated with retinal cryopexy or intravenous sodium iodate on the day before injection. Vitreous fluorophotometry (VFP) and fundus examinations were performed before and at various times after cell injections. Retinal detachments were graded by premortem ophthalmoscopic examinations and postmortem gross pathologic examinations. Eyes injected with cells had higher VFP readings than eyes injected with vehicle at all time points. Eyes injected with fibroblasts or rabbit RPE had significantly higher mean VFP values before the onset of retinal detachment than those injected with human RPE cells. Within each group, high levels of fluorescein leakage in the first week correlated well with severity of subsequent traction retinal detachment and the fibroblast and rabbit RPE groups had more severe detachments than the human RPE group. Treatment with cryopexy or sodium iodate resulted in higher VFP readings, a higher frequency of retinal detachments, and detachments that occurred earlier and that were more severe. These data demonstrate that intravitreous cells cause blood-retinal barrier breakdown in rabbits and that the amount and duration of this breakdown are important variables in retinal detachment formation.