Endothelial permeability is increased by vascular endothelial cell growth factor and decreased by antioxidants. Whether or not l-ascorbic acid (Asc), which decreases endothelial permeability by stimulating the endothelial barrier function, is anti-angiogenic (angiostatic) remains unknown. We examined the role of Asc on angiogenesis using two assay systems. At first, the potential role of Asc on four steps of angiogenesis was investigated in cultured bovine microvascular endothelial cells. Asc inhibited the formation of vessel-like tubular structures of endothelial cells cultured on Matrigel; however, it did not decrease the activity of plasminogen activator (PA), which creates the space into which vascular vessels extend. Furthermore, even at high concentrations, Asc did not inhibit either the proliferation or migration of endothelial cell cultures. Secondly, whether Asc inhibited in vivo angiogenesis or not was studied on chick chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) during the 4-6 days of embryogenesis when neovascularization is rapid. It also revealed that angiogenesis was dose-dependently inhibited by Asc from 0.5 micro mol/CAM with half-maximal inhibition at 2.5 micro mol/CAM. Because it was previously reported that the endothelial barrier function decreases permeability via the stimulation of collagen synthesis induced by Asc, we treated CAM with the inhibitor of collagen synthesis, l-azetidine 2-carboxylic acid (AzC). This compound partially attenuated the angiostatic function of Asc on CAM. To understand the involvement of an antioxidant activity in the angiostatic function of Asc, we further examined the effect of glutathione (GSH), which is an endogenous antioxidant, on angiogenesis in CAM and endothelial cells. GSH inhibited CAM angiogenesis, as well as the formation of vessel-like tubular structures of endothelial cell cultures on Matrigel. Both Asc and GSH inhibited hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)) induced tubular morphogenesis. These findings suggest that Asc affects angiogenesis through both its antioxidant properties and the stimulation of collagen synthesis. As the angiostatic activity of Asc may be one of the many effects involved in host resistance to the growth or invasiveness of solid cancer, it may be useful as a supplementary therapy in various angiogenic diseases.