PURPOSE: Glucose concentrations are elevated in retinal cells in undiagnosed and in undertreated diabetes. Studies of diabetic patients suggest that retinal function adapts, to some extent, to this increased supply of glucose. The aim of the present study was to examine such adaptation in a model of type 2 diabetes and assess how the retina responds to the subsequent institution of glycemic control. METHODS: Electroretinography (ERG) was conducted on untreated Zucker diabetic fatty (ZDF) rats and congenic controls from 8-22 weeks of age and on ZDFs treated with daily insulin from 16-22 weeks of age. Retinal sections from various ages were prepared and compared histologically and by immunocytochemistry. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS/CONCLUSIONS: Acute hyperglycemia did not have an effect on control rats while chronic hyperglycemia in the ZDF was associated with scotopic ERG amplitudes which were up to 20% higher than those of age-matched controls. This change followed the onset of hyperglycemia with a delay of over one month, supporting that habituation to hyperglycemia is a slow process. When glycemia was lowered, an immediate decrease in ZDF photoreceptoral activity was induced as seen by a reduction in a-wave amplitudes and maximum slopes of about 30%. A direct effect of insulin on the ERG was unlikely since the expression of phosphorylated Akt kinase was not affected by treatment. The electrophysiological differences between untreated ZDFs and controls preceded an activation of Müller cells in the ZDFs (up-regulation of glial fibrillary acidic protein), which was attenuated by insulin treatment. There were otherwise no signs of cell death or morphological alterations in any of the experimental groups. These data show that under chronic hyperglycemia, the ZDF retina became abnormally sensitive to variations in substrate supply. In diabetes, a similar inability to cope with intensive glucose lowering could render the retina susceptible to damage.