Antigen Ov39, derived from Onchocerca volvulus, cross-reacts on both the T and B cell level with a nonhomologous human retinal antigen, hr44. Lewis rats were immunized to investigate the potential of these antigens to induce eye disease. Histologic and immunohistologic examination of ocular tissues revealed pathologic changes as early as day 12, which included induction or up-regulation of class II and CD68-like antigen on perivascular cells, ramified retinal microglia, dendritiform cells of the iris epithelium, and ciliary epithelium and significant breakdown of anterior and posterior blood-ocular barriers. Extravascular immunoglobulin and staining for CD68-like antigen was detected in the optic nerve after immunization with Ov39. Unrelated structural abnormalities of retina and lens seen in 8% of eyes examined significantly predisposed eyes to the development of Ov39- or hr44-induced pathology. These findings suggest a role for cross-reactive immune responses in the development of ocular onchocerciasis.