The influence of buffer, viscosity and cyclodextrin on the ocular absorption and irritation of a pilocarpine prodrug, O,O'-dipropionyl-(1,4-xylylene) bispilocarpic acid diester, was studied in albino rabbits. The prodrug solutions, equivalent to 0.5% pilocarpine, were prepared in 0, 10, 20, 50, or 75 mM citrate buffer at pH 5.0. Viscosity of the solutions (20, 50 or 115 cP) was modified with hydroxypropyl methylcellulose. 2-hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin (HPCD) was included at concentrations 5, 10 and 15% (w/v). The formulations were compared to a commercial pilocarpine eyedrop (1.7%). Ocular irritation was graded in a double-masked experiment and miosis was used as a bioassay for pilocarpine delivery to the iris. The prodrug showed decreased peak and prolonged duration of miosis compared to pilocarpine, but it caused ocular irritation. Increasing buffer strength decreased and elevated viscosity intensified the miotic response and irritation by the pilocarpine prodrug. HPCD decreased both the ocular delivery of pilocarpine and the irritation by the prodrug, but the net effect was positive. Thus, administering 1.0% of pilocarpine as a prodrug with 15% (w/v) HPCD, the irritation was at the same level with the commercial pilocarpine eyedrop, but the ocular delivery was substantially improved. In conclusion, the ocular delivery of the pilocarpine prodrug may be enhanced in relation to its local irritation by properly combining buffer, viscosity and HPCD.