The microvasculature of the rat retina was studied in male Wistar rats in order to examine the features of the precapillary vascular pattern and structure that could affect blood flow regulation. Vascular corrosion casts and partially digested tissue specimens were observed by scanning electron microscopy. Side branching rather than bifurcation was the predominant microvascular pattern in the arterial tree. Two types of precapillary arteriole were present, one with the characteristic pattern of a preferential channel; the other gave off capillaries as terminal branches. At the origin of arteriolar side branches, smooth muscle cells appeared to buckle the endothelial nuclei into the vascular lumen. It is concluded that the rat retinal microvasculature appears to be characterised by 2 distinctive features: (1) side branching of arterioles which allows preferential flow in the most superficial layers of the retina; (2) peculiar luminal restrictions of arterioles and capillaries which permit fine regulation of blood flow.