Angiogenesis is critical for the growth and metastatic spread of tumours. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is the most potent inducer of neovasculature, and its increased expression has been related to a worse clinical outcome in many diseases. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relation between VEGF, its receptors (VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2) and microvessel density (MVD) in thyroid diseases. Immunostaining for VEGF and VEGF receptors was performed in 66 specimens of thyroid tissue, comprising 17 multinodular goitre (MNG), 14 Graves' disease, 10 follicular adenoma, 8 Hashimoto's thyroiditis, 7 papillary carcinoma and 10 normal thyroid specimens. Thyrocyte positivity for VEGF and VEGF receptors was scored 0-3. Immunohistochemistry for CD31, and CD34 on the same sections was performed to evaluate MVD. Immunohistochemical staining of VEGF in thyrocytes was positive in 92% of all the thyroid tissues studied. Using an immunostaining intensity cut off of 2, increased thyrocyte staining was seen in follicular adenoma specimens, MNG and normal thyroids compared with Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease (P < 0.05). Similarly, VEGF thyrocyte expression in Graves' disease was less than other pathologies (P < 0.05). VEGFR-1 expression and the average MVD score did not differ between the different thyroid pathologies. VEGF expression was lower in autoimmune pathologies compared to autonomous growth processes. Conversely, both VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2 were widely expressed in benign and neoplastic thyroid disease, suggesting that the up-regulation of VEGF and not its receptors occurs as tissue becomes autonomous. There was no clear relationship between MVD measurement and thyroid pathology.