Airflow obstruction in chronic airway disease is associated with airway and pulmonary vascular remodeling, of which the molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. Paracrine actions of angiogenic factors released by resident or infiltrating inflammatory cells following activation by proinflammatory cytokines in diseased airways could play a major role in the airway vascular remodeling process. Here, the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-1beta, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha were investigated on cell cultures of human airway smooth muscle (ASM) for their effects on mRNA induction and protein release of the angiogenic peptide, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). IL-1beta (0.5 ng/mL) and TNF-alpha (10 ng/mL) each increased VEGF mRNA (3.9 and 1.7 kb) expression in human ASM cells, reaching maximal levels between 16 and 24 and 4 and 8 h, respectively. Both cytokines also induced a time-dependent release of VEGF, which was not associated with increased ASM growth. Preincubation of cells with 1 microM dexamethasone abolished enhanced release of VEGF by TNF-alpha. The data suggest that human ASM cells express and secrete VEGF in response to proinflammatory cytokines and may participate in paracrine inflammatory mechanisms of vascular remodeling in chronic airway disease.