To determine the existence of retinal ganglion cell dysfunction and associated risk factors in glaucoma suspects with increased optic disc cupping and normal visual field. Cross-sectional, observational study. Two hundred glaucoma suspect (GS) patients were identified based on optic disc abnormalities (vertical cup-to-disc ratios [C/D]>0.5; vertical C/D asymmetry >or= 0.2; disc hemorrhages; notching) in association with known glaucoma risk factors (positive family history, African American descent, increased intraocular pressure [IOP]), but normal visual fields. Forty-two patients had early manifest glaucoma (EMG). Sixteen normal black subjects were added to update previous pattern electroretinogram (PERG) normative data and to establish a normal control (NC) group with a racial breakdown comparable with that of the study groups. Pattern electroretinograms were recorded simultaneously from both eyes using skin electrodes and automated analysis; visual fields were monitored with standard white-on-white automated perimetry (SAP) central 24-2 program; vertical C/D was evaluated by an independent reader from stereo disc photographs; and univariate and multivariate statistical analysis between PERG and other outcome measures was evaluated. Pattern electroretinogram amplitude (microV), phase (pi rad), and interocular asymmetry in amplitude and phase (%); and SAP mean deviation (MD; decibels), vertical C/D, age (years), IOP (mmHg), and race (black vs. nonblack). The PERG results were abnormal in at least 1 of the outcome measures in 52% of GS patients and 69% of EMG patients. The PERG amplitude was correlated weakly with both MD (P<0.01) and vertical C/D (P = 0.05). The correlation between PERG amplitude and MD and C/D was stronger (P<0.001) for interocular differences rather than absolute measures. Interocular PERG amplitude asymmetry increased with severity of disease (EMG>GS>NC; P<0.01). The PERG amplitude decline with age was steeper in patients with a more negative MD (P<0.01) and in patients with a more negative MD and a larger vertical C/D (P = 0.06). Black race (but not family history) was associated with lower PERG amplitude (P = 0.005) in GS and EMG patients, but not in normal controls (P = 0.44). The correlation between PERG abnormality and known risk factors for glaucoma indicates that PERG has a predictive potential for the development or progression of the disease, or both.