Loss of the tumor suppressor gene NF1 in neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) contributes to the development of a variety of tumors, including malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNST) and benign neurofibromas. Of the different cell types found in neurofibromas, Schwann cells usually provide between 40 and 80%, and are thought to be critical for tumor growth. Here we describe the identification of growth factors that are upregulated in NF1-/- mouse Schwann cells and are potential regulators of angiogenesis and cell growth. Basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and midkine (MK) were found to be induced by loss of neurofibromin and MK was further characterized. MK was induced in human neurofibromas, schwannomas, and various nervous system tumors associated with NF1 or NF2; midkine showed an expression pattern overlapping but distinct from its homolog pleiotrophin (PTN). Immunohistochemistry revealed expression of MK in S-100 positive Schwann cells of dermal and plexiform neurofibromas, and in endothelial cells of tumor blood vessels, but not in normal blood vessels. Furthermore, MK demonstrated potent mitogenic activity for human systemic and brain endothelial cells in vitro and stimulated proliferation and soft agar colony formation of human MPNST derived S100 positive cells and fibroblastoid cells derived from an NF1 neurofibroma. The data support a possible central role for MK as a mediator of angiogenesis and neurofibroma growth in NF1. Oncogene (2001) 20, 97 - 105.