PURPOSE Ricin, a highly potent toxin from castor beans, is a potential biological weapon that could be dispersed in the air as dust or aerosol. In these forms, ricin, besides being inhaled, could reach unprotected eyes. The present research was performed to ascertain the lesions that the toxin causes when applied to rabbit eyes. METHODS Ricin was applied to rabbit eyes in solution, in quantities ranging from 1 to 100 mug. Animals were observed until death, when eyes and internal organs were removed and fixed. Sections were stained and examined microscopically. RESULTS Ricin caused inflammation of the eyes and adnexa, visible both macroscopically and histologically. The damage was greatly reduced by rinsing the eyes with 10% lactose, provided the rinsing was done almost immediately after application of the toxin. Rinsing with phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) had no effect. With the highest dosage, congestion of internal organs was also apparent. CONCLUSIONS Application of ricin to eyes causes local damage, mainly of the inflammatory type. The ineffectiveness of rapid rinsing with PBS and the partial efficacy of rapid rinsing with lactose indicate that the toxin quickly binds to and is taken up by cells. The lesions of internal organs show that ricin applied to the eyes can be absorbed, pass into the circulation, and, at least at some dosages, damage internal organs.