The detection of viral nucleic acids in intraocular fluids and tissues by PCR has become increasingly important in clinical ophthalmology. While much attention has been directed toward minimizing false-positive reactions resulting from specimen contamination or amplicor carryover, relatively little attention has been given to the causes of false-negative PCRs. This report describes a PCR inhibitor in normal aqueous and vitreous fluids that can produce false-negative PCR results. As little as 0.5 microliter of vitreous fluid and 20 microliters of aqueous fluid can completely inhibit DNA amplification in a 100-microliters PCR mixture. This inhibition was not primer specific, nor was it due to chelation of Mg2+ ions or DNase activity in the ocular fluid. The inhibitor was completely resistant to boiling for 15 min. However, the inhibitory effects were completely removed by a single chloroform-isoamyl alcohol (24:1) extraction. The extent of PCR inhibition depended upon the type of thermostable DNA polymerase used in the reaction. Taq DNA polymerase was very sensitive to the inhibitor, while thermostable DNA polymerases from Thermus thermophilus HB-8 (Tth) and Thermus flavus (Tfl) were completely resistant. Thus, the inhibitory effects of intraocular fluids on PCRs can be removed by diluting the specimen, by chloroform extraction, or by using Tth or Tfl DNA polymerases.