Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), also known as vascular permeability factor or vasculotropin, is a recently characterized endothelial-specific mitogen which is angiogenic in vivo. Here we demonstrate that VEGF is angiogenic in vitro: when added to microvascular endothelial cells grown on the surface of three-dimensional collagen gels, VEGF induces the cells to invade the underlying matrix and to form capillary-like tubules, with an optimal effect at approximately 2.2nM (100ng/ml). When compared to basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) at equimolar (0.5nM) concentrations, VEGF was about half as potent. The most striking effect was seen in combination with bFGF: when added simultaneously, VEGF and bFGF induced an in vitro angiogenic response which was far greater than additive, and which occurred with greater rapidity than the response to either cytokine alone. These results demonstrate that like bFGF, VEGF induces an angiogenic response via a direct effect on endothelial cells, and that by acting in concert, these two cytokines have a potent synergistic effect on the induction of angiogenesis in vitro. We suggest that the synergism between VEGF and bFGF plays an important role in the control of angiogenesis in vivo.