Brain capillary proliferation in postnatal rats was measured in vivo by [3H]thymidine autoradiography. Maximal capillary proliferation occurred between 5 and 9 postnatal days, and was 40 times greater than in the adult. To test the hypothesis that soluble angiogenesis factors play a role in this developmental vascularization of brain, we prepared extracts from the brains of 6-day-old rats at the peak of proliferative activity, and from adults when it was lowest. We assayed them using an in vitro growth system measuring [3H]thymidine incorporation into cultured brain capillary endothelial cells. Extracts prepared from either 6-day or adult rats and containing 150 micrograms/ml protein caused more than a 4-fold stimulation of the endothelial cells, increasing to 8-fold at a concentration of 1500 micrograms/ml. The presence of growth-promoting activity in brain extracts from both adult and immature rats suggests that soluble angiogenesis factors may be present in the brain throughout life, but are unavailable for stimulation of in vivo capillary growth unless released or activated by an appropriate stimulus.