Diabetic retinopathy is thought to result from chronic changes in the metabolic pathways of the retina. Hyperglycemia leads to increased intracellular glucose concentrations, alterations in glucose degradation and an increase in lactate/pyruvate ratio. We measured lactate content in retina and other ocular and non-ocular tissues from normal and diabetic rats in the early stages of streptozotocin-induced diabetes. The intracellular redox state was calculated from the cytoplasmic [lactate]/[pyruvate] ratio. Elevated lactate concentration were found in retina and cerebral cortex from diabetic rats. These concentrations led to a significant and progressive decrease in the NAD+/NADH ratio, suggesting that altered glucose metabolism is an initial step of retinopathy. It is thus possible that tissues such as cerebral cortex have mechanisms that prevent the damaging effect of lactate produced by hyperglycemia and/or alterations of the intracellular redox state.