Purpose Photodynamic therapy (PDT) laser light in conjunction with the benzoporphyrin derivative verteporfin is a current clinical treatment for choroidal vascular diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of PDT laser-activated and inactive verteporfin on various cultured ocular cells. Methods Primary human scleral fibroblasts (hFibro), primary human trabecular meshwork (TM) cells (hTMC), primary porcine TM cells (pTMC), and a human retinal pigment epithelial cell line (ARPE-19 cells) were treated with verteporfin with and without activation by PDT laser. Cell viability was determined according to mitochondrial enzyme activity (3-(4,5- dimethyl-2-thiazoyl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide assay). Results PDT laser treatment alone was insufficient to cause significant cell death in any of the cell types tested. Twenty-four-hour exposure to inactive verteporfin (without PDT laser) caused a dose-dependent decrease in cell viability in hFibro and hTMC, and to a lesser extent ARPE-19 cells. Verteporfin (0.5 µg/ml) without PDT laser activation caused a slight but statistically insignificant reduction in cell viability in hFibro (81.5%±19.3%), pTMC (82.9%±6.7%), hTMC (80.3%±7.7%), and ARPE-19 cells (84.5%±14.9%). Verteporfin (0.5 µg/ml) plus 50 µJ/cm2 PDT laser treatment significantly decreased viability in hFibro (13.5% ± 3.3%), pTMC (7.1%±1.5%), hTMC (11.1%±5.2%), and ARPE-19 (44.5%±7.8%). Similar results were obtained in cells where verteporfin incubation was followed by washout before PDT laser, indicating that verteporfin is internalized by the studied cell lines. Conclusions PDT laser-induced cell death was obtained with coincubation of verteporfin or preincubation followed by washout. These results suggest a potential future use of PDT therapy for selective in vivo removal of targeted ocular cells beyond the current use for destroying vascular endothelial cells.