BACKGROUND: To determine whether a higher level of copper zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD) can reduce the severity of oxygen induced retinopathy (OIR) in a mouse model. METHODS: CuZnSOD transgenic mice with a threefold increase in CuZnSOD activity and control non-transgenic mice were exposed to 90% oxygen for 12 hours a day during the first 5 days of life. After oxygen treatment, all mice were reared in room air for 10 days. Another group of transgenic and non-transgenic mice were kept in room air for 15 days and served as control groups for the oxygen effect. At day 15, all mice were killed and perfused with India ink. The retinas were flat mounted on slides and examined with a light microscope. RESULTS: There was a statistically significant increase in the incidence of OIR in mice exposed to high levels of oxygen, whether or not they were transgenic. However, there was no statistically significant difference in the severity of OIR between oxygen treated transgenic and non-transgenic mice. CONCLUSION: A threefold higher CuZnSOD activity does not protect against OIR in mice. This is an unexpected finding, since oxygen radicals are considered a major factor causing OIR, and increased CuZnSOD activity has reduced oxygen radical induced damage in several neuronal and non-neuronal systems. The possibility of a damaging role for other radicals not affected by CuZnSOD cannot be excluded.