The lens influences retinal growth and differentiation during vertebrate eye development but the mechanisms are not understood. The role of the lens in retinal growth and development was studied in the teleost Astyanax mexicanus, which has eyed surface-dwelling (surface fish) and blind cave-dwelling (cavefish) forms. A lens and laminated retina initially develop in cavefish embryos, but the lens dies by apoptosis. The cavefish retina is subsequently disorganized, apoptotic cells appear, the photoreceptor layer degenerates, and retinal growth is arrested. We show here by PCNA, BrdU, and TUNEL labeling that cell proliferation continues in the adult cavefish retina but the newly born cells are removed by apoptosis. Surface fish to cavefish lens transplantation, which restores retinal growth and rod cell differentiation, abolished apoptosis in the retina but not in the RPE. Surface fish lens deletion did not cause apoptosis in the surface fish retina or affect RPE differentiation. Neither lens transplantation in cavefish nor lens deletion in surface fish affected retinal cell proliferation. We conclude that the lens acts in concert with another optic component, possibly the RPE, to promote retinal cell survival. Accordingly, deficiency in both optic structures may lead to eye degeneration in cavefish.