By comparing the composition of McCarey-Kaufman (MK) medium before and after corneal storage we attempted to identify specific physiological changes in the medium as predictors of tissue damage. We also tried to determine if hydrocortisone (a lysosomal membrane stabiliser) added to the medium could reduce tissue damage during storage. Corneas (human and rabbit) were stored in the MK medium with and without hydrocortisone for 4 days at 4 degrees C. The water and nitrogen contents of the stored cornea were compared with those of the fresh cornea. The medium was analysed before and after corneal storage to determine the concentrations of glucose, protein, and amino acids as well as pH and osmolarity. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used to estimate the degree of the corneal endothelial cell damage. The nitrogen contents and dry weights of the steroid treated and untreated stored corneas were similar to those of the fresh unstored cornea. The steroid treated cornea contained a lesser amount of water than the untreated cornea. The cornea stored in medium without steroid took up a greater amount of glucose from the medium than the cornea stored in medium with steroid. As compared with their concentrations in the fresh unused medium the concentrations of leucine, lysine, and glycine were lower and that of glutamic acid was higher in both the media used for corneal storage. However, the steroid treated storage medium as compared with the untreated storage medium had a greater reduction in the lowering of leucine, lysine, and glycine, and a lesser reduction in the increase of glutamic acid. Steroid treated medium also had a lesser amount of protein released from the stored cornea. Changes in the pH and osmolarity of the media before and after corneal storage were not remarkable. SEM showed that the endothelial cells of the cornea stored in the medium containing steroid were less damaged than those of the cornea stored in the medium without steroid.