Vascular permeability factor (VPF), a tumor-secreted heparin-binding protein (Mr approximately 38,000), is responsible for increased vessel permeability and fluid accumulation associated with tumor growth. Vascular permeability factor also promotes the growth of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (EC) and bovine pulmonary ECs in vitro. It is shown for the first time that guinea pig VPF (half-maximal and maximal dose approximately 0.4 and 22 pmol/l (picomolar), respectively), as well as human VPF, are potent stimuli for human ECs resulting in [Ca2+]i increases (maximal three- to fourfold) and inositol triphosphate (IP3) formation. Unlike the maximal responses to thrombin and histamine, the [Ca2+]i response to a maximal VPF dose was preceded by a characteristic 10- to 15-second delay. Guinea pig VPF also selectively increased [Ca2+]i in cultured aortic and pulmonary artery ECs, but not aortic smooth muscle cells, human fibroblasts, or neutrophils. Affinity-purified rabbit antibody (raised to a synthetic peptide representing VPF N-terminal amino acids 1 to 24) adsorbed all vessel permeability-increasing activity, EC growth-promoting activity, and specifically all activity responsible for increasing EC [Ca2+]i. Similar to other mediators that increase [Ca2+]i in cultured ECs, VPF also induced a 200% increase in von Willebrand factor release. Together these data indicate that VPF acts directly on ECs and that rapid cellular events in its in vivo/in vitro actions are likely to involve phospholipase C activation, [Ca2+]i increase, and von Willebrand factor release.