Vascular permeability factor (VPF), also known as vascular endothelial growth factor, is a secreted protein implicated in tumor-associated microvascular hyperpermeability and angiogenesis. Tumor cells in 11 of 12 renal cell carcinomas expressed high levels of VPF messenger RNA (mRNA) by in situ hybridization, the only exception being a case of the relatively avascular papillary variant. Expression was further accentuated adjacent to areas of necrosis. Both tumor cells and endothelial cells in small vessels adjacent to tumor stained strongly for VPF protein by immunohistochemistry. Endothelial cells did not express detectable VPF mRNA, but did express high levels of mRNA for the VPF receptors flt-1 and KDR indicating that the endothelial cell staining likely reflects binding of VPF secreted by adjacent tumor cells. Three transitional cell carcinomas also labeled strongly for VPF mRNA. These data suggest an important role for VPF in the vascular biology of these two common human malignancies.