Elevated vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) levels are required for ocular and tumor angiogenesis in animal models. Ischemic hypoxia is strongly correlated with increased VEGF expression in these systems and is considered a physiologically relevant stimulus. Because ischemic hypoxia is often followed by reperfusion and reactive oxygen intermediate (ROI) generation, we examined the potential role of ROI in the control of VEGF gene expression. Human retinal pigment epithelial cells exposed to superoxide or hydrogen peroxide rapidly increased VEGF mRNA levels. Superoxide-associated mRNA increases were dose dependent, blocked by antioxidants, and associated with elevated VEGF protein levels in conditioned media. Increases in VEGF mRNA levels were also observed in cultured human melanoma and rat glioblastoma cells with superoxide or hydrogen peroxide. Cycloheximide prevented the ROI-associated increases in VEGF mRNA. Transcriptional inhibition with actinomycin D revealed an inducible increase in VEGF mRNA half-life, but nuclear run-on experiments showed no increase in VEGF transcriptional rate. Reoxygenation of human retinal pigment epithelial cells in vitro and ocular reperfusion in vivo increased retinal VEGF mRNA levels. Antioxidants prevented the reperfusion-associated VEGF mRNA increases in retina. We conclude that ROIs increase VEGF gene expression in vitro and during the reperfusion of ischemic retina in vivo. The ROI-associated increases are mediated largely through increases in VEGF mRNA stability.