Diminished production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and decreased angiogenesis are thought to contribute to impaired tissue repair in diabetic patients. We examined whether recombinant human VEGF(165) protein would reverse the impaired wound healing phenotype in genetically diabetic mice. Paired full-thickness skin wounds on the dorsum of db/db mice received 20 microg of VEGF every other day for five doses to one wound and vehicle (phosphate-buffered saline) to the other. We demonstrate significantly accelerated repair in VEGF-treated wounds with an average time to resurfacing of 12 days versus 25 days in untreated mice. VEGF-treated wounds were characterized by an early leaky, malformed vasculature followed by abundant granulation tissue deposition. The VEGF-treated wounds demonstrated increased epithelialization, increased matrix deposition, and enhanced cellular proliferation, as assessed by uptake of 5-bromodeoxyuridine. Analysis of gene expression by real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction demonstrates a significant up-regulation of platelet-derived growth factor-B and fibroblast growth factor-2 in VEGF-treated wounds, which corresponds with the increased granulation tissue in these wounds. These experiments also demonstrated an increase in the rate of repair of the contralateral phosphate-buffered saline-treated wound when compared to wounds in diabetic mice never exposed to VEGF (18 days versus 25 days), suggesting that topical VEGF had a systemic effect. We observed increased numbers of circulating VEGFR2(+)/CD11b(-) cells in the VEGF-treated mice by fluorescence-activated cell sorting analysis, which likely represent an endothelial precursor population. In diabetic mice with bone marrow replaced by that of tie2/lacZ mice we demonstrate that the local recruitment of bone marrow-derived endothelial lineage lacZ+ cells was augmented by topical VEGF. We conclude that topical VEGF is able to improve wound healing by locally up-regulating growth factors important for tissue repair and by systemically mobilizing bone marrow-derived cells, including a population that contributes to blood vessel formation, and recruiting these cells to the local wound environment where they are able to accelerate repair. Thus, VEGF therapy may be useful in the treatment of diabetic complications characterized by impaired neovascularization.