Background: Diabetic retinopathy is characterised by morphological lesions in the retina secondary to disturbances in retinal blood flow. Previous studies have shown that the carbonic anhydrase inhibitor (CAI) dorzolamide can induce immediate dilatation of retinal arterioles and a sustained increase in retinal blood flow in primary open-angle glaucoma. However, the effect of sustained treatment with CAI on retinal arterioles in normal persons and in patients with diabetic retinopathy is unknown. Methods: The Dynamic Vessel Analyzer was used to assess the baseline diameter and the diameter response of retinal arterioles during an increase in arterial blood pressure induced by isometric exercise and during flicker stimulation before and 2 h, 24 h and 1 week after onset of topical treatment with dorzolamide. At each examination the diameter responses were studied before and during breathing in of a hypercapnic gas mixture. Results: Treatment with dorzolamide for 1 week significantly increased the diameter of retinal arterioles in normal persons, and breathing in of a hypercapnic gas mixture reduced this response. The pathological vasodilatation and reduced retinal autoregulation in patients with diabetic retinopathy were unaffected by dorzolamide and hypercapnia. Conclusions: The study suggests a lack of relevance of CAI for the treatment of pathological vasodilatation in early diabetic retinopathy.