Twenty-six cat retinae were surgically detached by injecting fluid into the subretinal space (SRS). The retinae were then studied by light and electron microscopy at detachment intervals ranging from 1/2 hr to 14 months. Degenerative and proliferative changes occur at the retinal pigment epithelial (RPE)-photoreceptor interface very soon after detachment, and the severity of these changes depends upon both the duration and height of the detachment. The specialized apical RPE processes that ensheath the outer segments are replaced by a uniform fringe of short, undifferentiated processes. The apical RPE surface becomes mounded, and this mounding becomes more pronounced at longer detachment durations. Labeling experiments with 3H-thymidine showed that some cat RPE cells enter a phase of stimulated DNA synthesis 12-24 hrs after detachment; RPE mitotic figures are first apparent 48 hrs after detachment. In the cat, discrete regions of proliferated RPE cells usually appear in one of several configurations. A number of different cell types, including polymorphonuclear neutrophils, monocytes at various maturational stages, photoreceptor cells, Müller cells, and RPE cells, appear in the expanded SRS of detached retinae. Rod and cone outer segments degenerate rapidly and become membrane bound sacs by 3 days postdetachment; the assembly of new outer segment membrane apparently does not stop completely even at moderately long detachment intervals (ie, 2 months). Degenerative changes in the inner segments do not take place with the same rapidity as those in the outer segments. The changes that occur at the RPE-photoreceptor interface are rapid, progressive, and sometimes irreversible events that have significant implications for photoreceptor recovery following retinal reattachment surgery.