Destruction of pulmonary endothelial cells is characteristic of hyperoxic lung injury. During recovery from hyperoxia, pulmonary endothelial cells proliferate to regenerate the vascular endothelium. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a peptide growth factor that is mitogenic specifically for endothelial cells. We hypothesized that VEGF messenger RNA (mRNA) increases during recovery from acute hyperoxic lung injury. Adult rabbits were exposed to 100% oxygen for 64 h and allowed to recover in air for 0, 1, 3, and 5 days. In situ hybridization showed increased VEGF expression in alveolar epithelial cells beginning at 1 day recovery. By 3 days recovery the message was in alveolar epithelial cells throughout the lung. Compared with alveolar epithelial cells, little or no expression was noted in large vessel endothelial cells, airway cells, or smooth muscle cells. Combined in situ hybridization for VEGF and immunostaining for macrophages and other mesenchymal cells found no VEGF message in those cell types. Isolated alveolar macrophages had no detectable VEGF message. Cells expressing VEGF mRNA were enriched in alveolar type II cell preparations from recovering lung. Double in situ hybridization for VEGF and surfactant protein-C (SP-C) showed co-expression in a population of type II cells, but with an inverse relationship: cells with abundant VEGF mRNA did not have abundant SP-C mRNA. Type II cells in vitro expressed VEGF message, but only when the SP-C message abundance was relatively low. We conclude that alveolar type II cells express increased VEGF mRNA during recovery from acute hyperoxia. These findings are consistent with a role for VEGF in regulating microvascular endothelial repair after oxidant injury.