In this study, the relationship between the fluctuation in blood oxygen and carbon dioxide tension and the progression of acute retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) was evaluated. Eighteen extremely premature infants were selected on the basis of the following criteria: gestational age less than 26 weeks, oxygen supply or mechanical ventilation for more than 50 days, transcutaneous oxygen pressure (TcPO2) recorded almost once per hour, and arterial oxygen pressure (PaO2) and arterial carbon dioxide pressure (PaCO2) measured intermittently, for over 8 weeks after birth. All of these infants developed ROP, which ceased progressing in 7 infants (group I, stage 1 or 2 ROP, international classification), but advanced in 11 (group II, stage 3 or 3+). The fluctuations in TcPO2, PaO2, and PaCO2 are represented as coefficients of both variation (CV) and mean difference (D) in these two groups. The results demonstrate that both the CV and D values of TcPO2 are significantly elevated in group II infants compared with group I infants, in the first and second 3-weeks periods, and over the entire 9-week period after birth. The incidences of extreme hyperoxemia (TcPO2 > or = 100 mm Hg) and hypoxemia (TcPO2 < 30 mm Hg) in recorded TcPO2 time series show no significant differences between these two groups. We conclude that extremely premature infants with widely fluctuating arterial oxygen tension may have a greater chance of developing progressive ROP.