Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) was originally discovered as an endothelial-specific growth factor. While the predominant role of this growth factor in the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) is unquestioned, recent observations indicate that VEGF also has direct effects on neurons and glial cells, and stimulates their growth, survival and axonal outgrowth. Because of these pleiotropic effects, VEGF has now been implicated in several neurological disorders both in the preterm infant (leukomalacia) and the adult (stroke, neurodegeneration, cerebral and spinal trauma, ischemic and diabetic neuropathy, nerve regeneration). A challenge for the future is to unravel to what extent the effect of VEGF in these disorders relates to its angiogenic activity or direct neurotrophic effect.
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