Kaposi's sarcoma is characterized by clusters of spindle-shaped cells that are considered to be tumor cells and by prominent vasculature. Whereas spindle cells are most likely endothelial in origin, it remains controversial whether they are of lymphatic or blood vascular derivation. To test the hypothesis that the lymphangiogenesis factor vascular endothelial growth factor-C and its receptors, KDR and flt-4, are involved in the pathogenesis of Kaposi's sarcoma, we performed in situ hybridizations and immunofluorescent stainings on human immunodeficiency virus-associated Kaposi's sarcoma. Spindle-shaped tumor cells strongly expressed KDR and flt-4 mRNA. Immunofluorescent staining confirmed expression of the flt-4 receptor in Kaposi's sarcoma cells, and double labeling revealed its colocalization with the endothelial cell marker CD31. Vascular endothelial growth factor-C was strongly expressed in blood vessels associated with Kaposi's sarcoma. In vitro, human dermal microvascular endothelial cells also expressed vascular endothelial growth factor-C mRNA that was further upregulated by vascular permeability factor/vascular endothelial growth factor. Vascular endothelial growth factor-C potently stimulated the proliferation of Kaposi's sarcoma tumor cells in vitro. These results demonstrate important paracrine functions of vascular endothelial growth factor-C, produced by blood vessels, in the pathogenesis of cutaneous Kaposi's sarcoma, and suggest a lymphatic origin and/or differentiation of Kaposi's sarcoma tumor cells.