Dilation and tortuosity of the posterior pole vessels "(plus disease)" is a sign of poor prognosis and may be associated with threshold or prethreshold retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). We have found that normal posterior pole vessels are a reliable marker for the absence of stage 3 ROP. One hundred thirty-two consecutive premature infants weighing less than 1600 g at birth underwent ROP examinations between 32 and 40 weeks' postconceptional age. The status of the posterior pole vessels was compared to peripheral retinal pathology. Vascular findings in the posterior pole were graded 0, 1, 2, or 3, with 0 representing normal arterioles and venules and 3 representing plus disease. The remainder of the fundus examination was recorded using the international Classification of ROP, then converted to a severity scale based on zone and stage of ROP. For each infant, only one examination representing the most severe stage of ROP reached prior to treatment or spontaneous regression was used for data analysis. There was a highly significant Spearman's rank correlation (rs = 0.65) between the posterior pole vascular abnormalities and the severity of ROP in the retinal periphery. Clinically important ROP was not found in any patient with normal posterior pole vessels (grade 0) and stage 3 disease was usually associated with both venous and arterial vascular abnormalities (grades 2 or 3). When ocular examination of premature infants is difficult because of poor dilation of the pupil, hazy media, or medical instability, normal appearance of the posterior pole vessels can be a reassuring finding if it is necessary to postpone complete fundus examination in infants at risk for ROP.