The mechanism(s) underlying lead neurotoxicity are not fully elucidated. cDNA expression microarray analysis identified lead-sensitive genes in immortalized human fetal astrocytes (SV-FHA). Of the represented genes expressed, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) was one of the most sensitive. Lead induced VEGF mRNA 3-fold and VEGF protein approximately 2-fold with maximum mRNA induction following incubation with 10 micrometer lead acetate for 24 h. Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), a potent protein kinase C (PKC) activator, increased VEGF mRNA 2-fold and PKC inhibition by GF-109203 completely blocked VEGF induction by lead. Expression of dominant-negative PKC-epsilon, but not PKC-alpha, completely inhibited VEGF mRNA induction by lead. Lead activated the transcription factor AP-1 and increased AP-1-dependent luciferase expression >2-fold. Transfection of cells with a c-jun dominant-negative effectively inhibited both AP-1 activation and VEGF mRNA induction by lead. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) activity in SV-FHAs was moderately increased by lead (86%) and PMA (96%). Pretreatment with GF-109203 completely inhibited these effects of lead and PMA. However, lead did not alter HIF-1-dependent luciferase expression and a HIF-1alpha dominant-negative had no effects on the induction of VEGF mRNA by lead. These findings indicate that lead induces VEGF expression in SV-FHAs via a PKC/AP-1-dependent and HIF-1-independent signaling pathway.