Retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells migrating through the damaged retina play an important role in the pathogenesis of proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR). We found that alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) inhibits proliferation of human RPE in culture without exerting cytotoxic effects. Maximal inhibition was achieved with 100 microM alpha-tocopherol. Our result could explain the observation that vitamin E supplements have an adverse effect on light-damaged retina and on the course of retinitis pigmentosa. Since it has been shown that supplemental oral administrations of vitamin E can raise the RPE concentration of alpha-tocopherol well above 100 microM and supplementation is not associated with any clinical relevant adverse effect, we believe that vitamin E could be beneficial in the treatment of PVR.