We have previously suggested that tumor angiogenesis in human gliomas is regulated by a paracrine mechanism involving vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and flt-1 (VEGF-receptor 1). VEGF, an endothelial-cell-specific mitogen, is abundantly expressed in glioma cells which reside along necrotic areas, whereas flt-1, a tyrosine-kinase receptor for VEGF, is expressed in tumor endothelial cells, but not in endothelial cells in normal adult brain. Recently, a second tyrosine-kinase receptor which binds VEGF with high affinity, designated KDR or flk-1, has been described. We performed in situ hybridization for VEGF mRNA, flt-1 mRNA and KDR mRNA on serial sections of normal brain, low-grade and high-grade glioma specimens. We show that KDR mRNA is co-expressed with flt-1 in vascular cells in glioblastoma but not in low-grade glioma. Since flt-1 and KDR are not expressed in endothelial cells in the normal adult brain, the coordinate up-regulation of 2 receptors for VEGF appears to be a critical event which controls tumor angiogenesis. Immunocytochemistry with a monoclonal anti-VEGF antibody revealed significant amounts of VEGF protein in the same glioma cells that expressed VEGF mRNA. The largest amount of VEGF immunoreactivity, however, was detected on the vasculature of glioblastomas, the site where VEGF exerts its biological functions. These findings suggest that VEGF is produced and secreted by glioma cells and acts on tumor endothelial cells which express VEGF receptors. To further characterize VEGF-producer cells in vivo, we investigated cellular proliferation, immunoreactivity to the p53 tumor-suppressor gene product and epidermal-growth-factor-receptor (EGFR) expression on serial sections by immunocytochemistry. VEGF-producer cells did not show increased cellular proliferation, p53 immunoreactivity or EGFR immunoreactivity as compared with glioma cells which did not express VEGF. Our studies therefore do not demonstrate evidence for a growth advantage of VEGF-producer cells in vivo or VEGF induction by p53 mutation or EGFR over-expression.