The purpose of the present study was to examine the effects on cataractogenesis of daily sc administration of the Ca2+ antagonist drug verapamil to diabetic rats. Streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats were given verapamil half-way through the 8-week experimental period or during the full 8 weeks of diabetes. Verapamil administration had no effect on the high blood glucose values, low circulating insulin levels, or elevated triglyceride and cholesterol concentrations in the diabetic rats. Untreated diabetic rats had a 90% incidence of cataracts. Four weeks of verapamil administration reduced this incidence to 41%, and a full 8 weeks of drug treatment further lowered the incidence to 20%. Diltiazem, another Ca2+ antagonist, lowered the incidence of cataracts in the diabetic rats to a similar extent. Verapamil administration to the diabetic animals also partially protected against the presence of retinal microangiopathy in the diabetic animals. Lenticular hydration and lipid accumulation were only indirectly related to cataractogenesis in the diabetic rats and its protection by verapamil treatment. Lenticular electrolyte imbalance, particularly Ca2+, in the diabetic animals was closely correlated with cataract formation, and verapamil significantly reduced the alterations in these ion concentrations. The present results demonstrate the efficacy of verapamil as a protective agent against cataractogenesis and some retinal damage in diabetic animals. Most importantly, this occurs in the absence of any change in the glycemic status of the diabetic animals. The findings strongly support a role for lenticular Ca2+ imbalance in cataract development in diabetes and provide initial evidence to suggest its clinical use in the diabetic population at risk for blindness.