Advanced glycation end products (AGEs), formed from the nonenzymatic glycation of proteins and lipids with reducing sugars, have been implicated in many diabetic complications; however, their role in diabetic retinopathy remains largely unknown. Recent studies suggest that the cellular actions of AGEs may be mediated by AGE-specific receptors (AGE-R). We have examined the immunolocalization of AGEs and AGE-R components R1 and R2 in the retinal vasculature at 2, 4, and 8 months after STZ-induced diabetes as well as in nondiabetic rats infused with AGE bovine serum albumin for 2 weeks. Using polyclonal or monoclonal anti-AGE antibodies and polyclonal antibodies to recombinant AGE-R1 and AGE-R2, immunoreactivity (IR) was examined in the complete retinal vascular tree after isolation by trypsin digestion. After 2, 4, and 8 months of diabetes, there was a gradual increase in AGE IR in basement membrane. At 8 months, pericytes, smooth muscle cells, and endothelial cells of the retinal vessels showed dense intracellular AGE IR. AGE epitopes stained most intensely within pericytes and smooth muscle cells but less in basement membrane of AGE-infused rats compared with the diabetic group. Retinas from normal or bovine-serum-albumin-infused rats were largely negative for AGE IR. AGE-R1 and -R2 co-localized strongly with AGEs of vascular endothelial cells, pericytes, and smooth muscle cells of either normal, diabetic, or AGE-infused rat retinas, and this distribution did not vary with each condition. The data indicate that AGEs accumulate as a function of diabetes duration first within the basement membrane and then intracellularly, co-localizing with cellular AGE-Rs. Significant AGE deposits appear within the pericytes after long-term diabetes or acute challenge with AGE infusion conditions associated with pericyte damage. Co-localization of AGEs and AGE-Rs in retinal cells points to possible interactions of pathogenic significance.