The regulation of GLUT-3 and aldose reductase mRNA in retinal endothelial cells and retinal pericytes was studied in response to variations in the extracellular concentration of hexoses. In physiological concentrations of glucose (5 mmol/l), an increase in the level of GLUT-3 mRNA was observed in cultured cells compared to the level of mRNA found in the absence of glucose. In contrast, there was little change in the level of GLUT-3 mRNA when the cells were cultured in the presence of 5 mmol/l galactose. In high concentrations of glucose, there was a decline in GLUT-3 mRNA indicating that the GLUT-3 mRNA is regulated by the extracellular concentration of glucose. In contrast, at both 5 mmol/l and 25 mmol/l glucose, the level of aldose reductase mRNA was increased. Furthermore, there were differences in the magnitude of the increase of aldose reductase mRNA between bovine retinal pericytes and bovine retinal endothelial cells with a greater increase being observed in the pericytes. We propose that this demonstration of a facilitative glucose transporter system within retinal cells, and in particular the specific response to different hexoses and the known distinct kinetic parameters of the transporter system in specific cell types, highlights the heterogeneity of hexose transport mechanisms in retinal cells. Thus, hypergalactosaemia as a model system for the study of diabetic retinopathy should be used with caution.