Detachment of the neural retina from the retinal pigment epithelium induces photoreceptor degeneration. We studied the effects of this degeneration on the localization of two photoreceptor outer segment-specific integral membrane proteins, opsin and peripherin/rds, in rod photoreceptors. Results from laser scanning confocal microscopic and electron microscopic immunolocalization demonstrate that these two proteins, normally targeted to the newly-forming discs of the outer segments, accumulate in different sub-cellular compartments during photoreceptor degeneration: opsin immunolabeling increases throughout the photoreceptor cell's plasma membrane, while peripherin/rds immunolabeling occurs within cytoplasmic vesicles. The simplest hypothesis to explain our results is that these proteins are transported in different post-Golgi transport vesicles and separately inserted into the plasma membrane. More complex mechanisms involve having the two co-transported and then opsin finds its way into the plasma membrane but peripherin/rds does not, remaining behind in vesicles. Alternatively, both insert into the plasma membrane but peripherin/rds is recycled into cytoplasmic vesicles. We believe the data most strongly supports the first possibility. Although the transport pathways for these proteins have not been fully characterized, the presence of peripherin/rds-positive vesicles adjacent to the striated rootlet suggests a transport role for this cytoskeletal element. The accumulation of these proteins in photoreceptors with degenerated outer segments may also indicate that their rate of synthesis has exceeded the combined rates of their incorporation into newly forming outer segment disc membranes and their degradation. The accumulation may also provide a mechanism for rapid recovery of the outer segment following retinal reattachment and return of the photoreceptor cell to an environment favorable to outer segment regeneration.