Vascular and parenchymal basement membranes (BMs) are thickened in diabetes, but alterations in individual BM components in diabetic eyes, especially in diabetic retinopathy (DR), are obscure. To identify abnormalities in the distribution of specific constituents, we analyzed cryostat sections of human eyes obtained at autopsy (seven normal, five diabetic without DR, and 13 diabetic with DR) by immunofluorescence with antibodies to 30 BM and extracellular matrix components. In non-DR eyes, no qualitative changes of ocular BM components were seen. In some DR corneas, epithelial BM was stained discontinuously for laminin-1, entactin/nidogen, and alpha3-alpha4 Type IV collagen, in contrast to non-DR corneas. Major BM alterations were found in DR retinas compared to normals and non-DR diabetics. The inner limiting membrane (retinal BM) of DR eyes had accumulations of fibronectin (including cellular) and Types I, III, IV (alpha1-alpha2), and V collagen. The BM zone of new retinal blood vessels in neovascularized areas accumulated tenascin and Type XII collagen, whereas normal, diabetic, and adjacent DR retinas showed only weak and irregular staining. In preretinal membranes, perlecan, bamacan, and Types VI, VIII, XII, and XIV collagen were newly identified. Diabetic BM thickening appears to involve qualitative alterations of specific BM markers at an advanced disease stage, with the appearance of DR.