The origin of several vascular pathologies involves sudden or recurrent oxygen deficiency. In this review, we examine what the biochemical and molecular responses of the endothelial cells to the lack of oxygen are and how these responses may account for the features observed in pathological situations, mainly by modifications of cell-cell interactions. Two major responses of the endothelial cells have been observed depending on the degree and duration of the oxygen deficiency. Firstly, acute hypoxia rapidly activates the endothelial cells to release inflammatory mediators and growth factors. These inflammatory mediators are able to recruit and promote the adherence of neutrophils to the endothelium where they become activated. The synthesis of platelet-activating factor plays a key role in this adherence process. Secondly, longer periods of hypoxia increase the expression of specific genes such as those encoding some cytokines as well as for the growth factors platelet-derived growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor. The transcriptional induction of these genes is mediated through the activation of several transcription factors, the most important one being hypoxia inducible factor-1. The link between our knowledge of the signalling cascade of the cellular and molecular events initiated by hypoxia and their involvement in several vascular pathological situations, varicose veins, tumor angiogenesis and pulmonary hypertension is discussed briefly.