There is considerable evidence that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is important in the pathogenesis of retinal neovascular diseases. The effects of this endothelial cell-specific mitogen are mediated by specific cell surface receptors. In this study we probed for the two VEGF receptors (VEGFRs) known to have highest affinity in the rat--flt-1 and flk-1. Using a well-characterized rat model of the neovascular disease retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), we performed immunohistochemical assays on methacrylate sections of eyes from normal and oxygen-injured animals at the time neovascularization is first observed (16 days of age) and at its peak (day 20). In day 16 room air retinas there was light, diffuse labeling of the inner nuclear layer and outer plexiform layer. In contrast, in 4 of 5 oxygen-injured eyes on day 16, there was specific labeling of small neovascular growths and normal retinal vessels, and the outermost (sclerad) limit of the label had shifted inward to the vitread border of the inner nuclear layer and the inner plexiform layer. Day 20 room air eyes showed a pattern similar to day 16, although with stronger labeling. However, in oxygen-injured eyes on day 20 the labeling pattern had shifted toward the vitreous, with extremely strong labeling of the preretinal neovascular growths. As on day 16 there was also labeling of the inner plexiform layer and the inner portion of the inner nuclear layer, but not the outer plexiform layer. Comparison of VEGF protein immunolabel with both of the VEGFR immunolabels revealed overlap and strong similarity on day 20 in the oxygen-injured eyes. This is the first report of VEGF receptor protein being concentrated in preretinal neovascular growths in a model of ROP. These results lend themselves to further investigation of the roles of VEGFRs in preretinal neovascularization in ROP and other retinal diseases and suggest avenues of research toward therapies using VEGFR antagonists.