The immunolocalization and gene expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its cognate tyrosine kinase receptors, Flt-1 and KDR, has been studied in ocular melanomas and retinoblastomas using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. Tumour-related alterations in VEGF/VEGF-receptor expression have also been examined in separate and uninvolved iris, retina and choroid of the same eyes. Although VEGF immunoreactivity in the normal retina was virtually absent, low-level VEGF expression was evident in the ganglion cell-bodies, Müller cells and in a distinct population of amacrine cells. VEGF gene expression was absent in the iris and choroid of normal eyes. In tumour-bearing eyes, high levels of VEGF protein and gene expression were observed within the vascularized regions of the tumours, while the adjacent retina and choroid showed increased VEGF levels when compared with normals. Flt-1 and KDR gene expression and immunolocalization occurred in VEGF-expressing ganglion, Müller and amacrine cells in normal eyes. Within the intra-ocular tumours, VEGF-receptor gene expression and protein was evident in the endothelial cells and also in cells close to the vessels, while in the adjacent retina, Flt-1 and KDR levels were elevated over normal, especially in the blood vessels. Flt-1 and KDR were both observed at elevated levels in the choroid and iris blood vessels. This study suggests that VEGF, Flt-1 and KDR are expressed by neural, glial and vascular elements within normal human retina. Intra-ocular tumours demonstrate a high level of VEGF and VEGF-receptor expression; within uninvolved, spatially separate retina, choroid and iris in the same eyes, expression is also elevated, especially within the vasculature. Retinal vascular endothelia may respond to high intra-ocular levels of VEGF by increasing expression of their VEGF receptors, a phenomenon which could have relevance to neoplasm-related ocular neovascularization.