Background/aims-To investigate a poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (PBEMA) orbital implant with a spongy anterior hemisphere and a smooth gel posterior hemisphere, by histology correlated with magnetic resonance images.Methods-Following enucleation, eight rabbits received PHEMA implants to which the muscles were directly sutured, and underwent gadolinium enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) from 3 to 52 weeks. After the rabbits were killed, the implants were removed, cut in a plane corresponding to the scan, and processed for light and electron microscopy.Results-All eight rabbits retained their implant to the end of the study period without complications. The scans demonstrated muscle attachment to the anterior half of the implant, and enhancement was seen on injection of gadolinium chelate. Histology confirmed muscle attachment, and cellular and vascular ingrowth. Over time, a transformation from reactive inflammatory to relatively non-vascular scar tissue was seen within the implant. Calcium deposits in one implant were detected by imaging and histology.Conclusion-The implants are readily visualised on MRI. Muscle attachment and fibrovascular ingrowth irate the anterior hemisphere are seen, while encapsulation of the posterior hemisphere is minimal. Histological findings confirm the progress of the healing response, with initial inflammation and marked vascularisation, developing later into quiescent scar tissue predominantly of fibroblasts.