Thyroid tumor growth requires angiogenesis, and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has been shown to be the most important endothelial mitogen. TSH is the major thyrotropic hormone, but its impact to modulate VEGF production has not yet been studied. Several other growth factors have also been shown to affect thyroid cancer cell growth and function in vitro. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to 1) establish the effect of TSH on VEGF as well as 2) evaluate the TSH signal transduction of this effect, and 3) screen other growth factors for the ability to modulate VEGF in thyroid cancer cell lines. HTC, a follicular cancer cell line lacking endogenous TSH receptor (TSHr), its receptor positive variant (HTC TSHr), and a cell line of Huerthle cell origin (XTC) were used. After stimulation with growth factors in vitro [TSH; epidermal growth factor (EGF), IGF, placenta growth factor, TGF-alpha, TGF-beta1, fibroblast growth factor, platelet-derived growth factor, and hepatocyte growth factor] cells were analyzed for VEGF gene expression by Northern blotting and for VEGF protein by enzyme immunoassay. TSHr signal transduction was evaluated by analyzing the effect of stimulators (cholera toxin, 8-bromo-cAMP, forskolin, and 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate) and inhibitors (2',5'-dideoxyadenosine and staurosporine) on VEGF protein levels under basal and TSH-stimulated conditions. TSH increased VEGF mRNA and protein in a dose-dependent manner in HTC TSHr and XTC cells by up to 40%. The effects of TSH were mediated by protein kinase C (PKC), rather than protein kinase A (PKA), stimulation, because inhibition of PKC by staurosporine resulted in a decrease in VEGF production of up to 65%, whereas inhibition of the PKA signal transduction pathway (2',5'-dideoxyadenosine) resulted in only a minor decrease. TSH was not the most powerful stimulator of VEGF production. TGF-beta1 and EGF were 1.5- to 2-fold more potent. Placenta growth factor and TGF-alpha did not induce VEGF production in TSHr-positive HTC cells, whereas they did induce VEGF production in TSHr-negative HTC cells. In thyroid cancer cell lines, TSH induces VEGF production involving the PKC, rather than the PKA, pathway. However, EGF and TGF-beta increase the capacity of thyroid cancer cells to provide VEGF more effectively than TSH. In the absence of a functioning TSHr, additional growth factors, such as TGF-alpha, increase capacity for VEGF stimulation.