Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) may modulate vascular permeability, chemotaxis for monocytes, and protease activity. In addition, VEGF may play a role in embryonic and tumor angiogenesis. In fetal mouse kidney, VEGF mRNA and protein expression have been demonstrated. This finding led to the hypothesis that VEGF might be involved in renal growth and development. To further elucidate the role of VEGF in human kidney, expression of VEGF and its receptors, the specific tyrosine kinase receptors, fit-1 and KDR, were studied. In fetal (6-24 gestational wk; mesonephros and metanephros) and adult kidney, VEGF mRNA and protein could be colocalized in glomerular epithelia and collecting duct cells by in situ hybridization and immunohistology. By reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, mRNA of three VEGF isoforms, VEGF121, VEGF165, and VEGF189, were found in fetal kidney and cortex, isolated glomeruli, and medulla of adult human kidney. KDR and flt-1 mRNA were coexpressed in endothelia of glomeruli and in peritubular capillaries in fetal and adult kidney. These data support the assumption that VEGF and its receptors may influence renal ontogenesis. We speculate that the constitutive expression of VEGF in adult kidney may be required for the function of VEGF receptor positive-fenestrated endothelia in glomeruli and postglomerular vessels. The expression of VEGF in collecting duct and of its receptors in medullary capillaries may in addition be relevant for maintaining medullary osmolality.