Recessed cathode O2 microelectrodes were used to measure spatially detailed oxygen tension (PO2) gradients in the vitreous humor near the cat retina. Measurement sites (n = 41 in 8 cats) included single arterioles and venules and parallel vessel pairs. Mean vitreous PO2 was 37.9 +/- 1.5 (SE) Torr. Close to the retinal surface (approximately 200 microns), PO2 was found to be both higher and lower than the vitreous PO2, depending on the proximity of the microelectrode tip to retinal vessels. Both positive (inward) and negative (outward) O2 fluxes (JO2) were measured, consistent with the anatomy and expected boundary conditions in the eye. The PO2 at the closest approach above arterioles was 55.2 +/- 2.3 Torr, significantly higher than in the vitreous (P < 0.0001). All arterioles had outward JO2 with an overall mean of -2.58.10(-6) ml O2/sec/cm2. Some of the venules were also losing O2, but at much lower rates than arterioles. Several venules were gaining O2. Countercurrent transport (A-V shunting) was also seen between vessel pairs. Our experimental results allow theoretical predictions to be made for the axial drop in blood PO2 along an arteriole as a function of blood flow.