Little is known of the molecular mechanisms mediating the genesis and subsequent biological behavior of central nervous system vascular malformations. The role of angiogenic and permeability-inducing factors in the pathogenesis of these lesions has not bee previously explored. In this study, we subject specimens from 12 cases of excised vascular malformation to a battery of immunostaining for vascular endothelial growth factor, basic fibroblast growth factor, and selected structural and matrix proteins. The lesions consisted of seven arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), including one angiographically occult AVM, one arterialized vein from a dural AVM, and five cavernous malformations (CMs). Vascular endothelial growth factor was expressed by all lesions and was localized predominantly in the subendothelial layer and in perivascular spaces. Four of seven AVMs and four of five CMs demonstrated faint basic fibroblast growth factor expression that was localized to the media of AVM vessels and the subendothelial layer and intercavernous matrix of CMs. This pattern of angiogenic factor immunostaining was correlated with the expression of structural and matrix proteins in the same lesions. Laminin was not expressed in any of the CMs, confirming previous reports from our laboratory. By contrast, fibronectin expression was more prominent in CMs than in AVMs. Collagen Type IV and alpha smooth muscle actin expression occurred in every lesion. We conclude that angiogenic growth factors are expressed in all types of vascular malformations of the central nervous system. The pattern of expression suggests diffuse activation of angiogenesis without specific relation to individual vessel types or recent clinical behavior. Defining the role of angiogenesis in vascular malformations might provide insight into their pathogenesis and suggest novel strategies for modification of their behavior.