The present studies were designed to investigate the hormonal regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) release by human subcutaneous adipose tissue explants and adipocytes incubated in primary culture for 48 hours. Vascular endothelial growth factor and IL-8 release by adipocytes were less than 10% of that by tissue explants, whereas that of leptin in adipocytes was comparable to that by tissue. Dexamethasone inhibited VEGF formation by both adipose tissue explants and isolated adipocytes, whereas insulin stimulated VEGF release only in isolated adipocytes. Insulin also enhanced the formation of IL-8 and plasminogen activation inhibitor 1 (PAI-1), but not that of IL-6 by adipocytes although having little effect on that of IL-6 or PAI-1 by adipose tissue explants. Pertussis toxin stimulated lipolysis and inhibited leptin release by human adipose tissue or adipocytes but did not affect release of IL-8 or VEGF. Isoproterenol also stimulated lipolysis by human adipocytes, but this was not accompanied by any significant changes in VEGF, IL-8, IL-6, or PAI-1 release. In contrast, insulin stimulated VEGF release by human adipocytes, and this stimulation was enhanced in the presence of isoproterenol. Insulin stimulated VEGF formation as well as that of PAI-1 by human adipocytes, but not by explants under conditions where it had little effect on that of IL-6. The ability of insulin to stimulate VEGF formation by adipocytes suggests that the elevated circulating levels of insulin in obesity promote angiogenesis in adipose tissue as well as the enhanced accumulation of fat in human adipocytes.