Extracellular proteolysis is believed to be an essential component of the angiogenic process. The effects of VEGF, a recently described angiogenic factor, were assessed on PA activity and PA and PAI-1 mRNA levels in microvascular endothelial cells. u-PA and t-PA activity were increased by VEGF in a dose-dependent manner, with maximal induction at 30 ng/ml. u-PA and t-PA mRNAs were increased 7.5- and 8-fold respectively after 15 hours, and PAI-1 mRNA 4.5-fold after 4 hours exposure to VEGF. At equimolar concentrations (0.5 nM), VEGF was a more potent inducer of t-PA mRNA than bFGF, while bFGF was a more potent inducer of u-PA and PAI-1 mRNAs. In addition, VEGF induced u-PA and PAI-1 mRNAs with kinetics similar to those previously demonstrated for bFGF. These results demonstrate the regulation of PA and PAI-1 production by VEGF in microvascular endothelial cells and are in accord with the hypothesis that extracellular proteolysis, appropriately balanced by protease inhibitors, is required for normal capillary morphogenesis.