Several studies have implicated the angiogenic cytokine vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the development of diabetic nephropathy, but no data are available about its local activity during human disease. Glomeruli from 52 archival biopsies from type II diabetics were evaluated and compared to 10 renal biopsies without kidney disease (controls). Glomerulosclerosis, capillary rarefaction, glomerular and endothelial cell proliferation, apoptosis, VEGF expression, as well as receptor-bound VEGF indicating local VEGF activity, and phosphorylation of the signal transduction molecule Akt were investigated. Owing to substantial heterogeneity of glomerular lesions in individual biopsies, these parameters were correlated with the degree of injury in individual glomeruli rather than biopsies. Severe glomerular capillary rarefaction was linked to the degree of glomerulosclerosis. While cellular apoptosis was detected independent of the stage of injury, endothelial cell proliferation indicating capillary repair was markedly increased only in mildly/moderately injured glomeruli. In controls, VEGF was predominantly expressed in podocytes, whereas receptor-bound VEGF was confined to the glomerular endothelium. VEGF expression was increased in all diabetic glomeruli by many different cell types. In contrast, VEGF receptor activation was increased predominantly in the endothelium of only mildly injured glomeruli, but significantly decreased in more severely injured glomeruli. Diabetic nephropathy is associated with glomerular capillary rarefaction. Despite overall increased glomerular VEGF, the decreased receptor-bound VEGF on the endothelium may be an indicator of an insufficient capillary repair reaction.