We have compared the fatty acid composition of the major classes of phospholipids in the retina of lean (FA/FA) and genetically obese (fa/fa) male Zucker rats. In all phospholipid fractions, there was a higher ratio of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids in obese animals whereas the total content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) was unaffected by the genotype. Lower percentages of arachidonic acid (20:4(n-6)) were present in the phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylinositol and phosphatidylserine fractions in the retina of obese rats. This was associated with a higher level of docosahexaenoic acid (22:6(n-3)) in these fractions. In addition, increased levels of dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (20:3(n-6)) were present in the retinal phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine of obese animals. These results indicate that modifications of phospholipid fatty acid composition which have previously been reported in peripheral tissues of obese Zucker rats also affect the retina. Furthermore, the retinal levels of vitamin E were higher in obese than in lean rats suggesting differences in the tissue antioxidant status between these two genotypes.