All solid tumors must acquire a vascular stroma to grow beyond a minimal size. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent and specific angiogenic growth factor both in vitro and in vivo that may participate in the formation of the vascular tumor stroma. In the present study, we examined the expression of VEGF in the paraffin sections of 20 eyes harboring retinoblastoma or posterior uveal melanoma, but also in corresponding tumor cellines. By using in situ hybridization, we found that all but one of the retinoblastomas expressed VEGF mRNA. Particularly high expression was detected in areas of loosely packed tumor cells with prominent chromatin. By contrast, none of the posterior uveal melanomas expressed significant amounts of VEGF mRNA. Immunostaining with an antibody against VEGF confirmed that retinoblastomas, but not posterior uveal melanomas, also contained detectable VEGF protein. To further study the expression of VEGF in these tumor cells we performed Northern blotting on a retinoblastoma celline, Y79, and on an uveal melanoma celline, OM431. Both of these cellines expressed low levels of VEGF mRNA under normal culture conditions. However, when the cells were cultured under hypoxic conditions, a strong increase in VEGF mRNA could be seen in Y79 cells but not in OM431 cells. By using a bioassay, we also found that hypoxia stimulated the secretion of VEGF protein into the culture medium of Y79 cells. In conclusion, we have shown that VEGF mRNA and protein are expressed in retinoblastomas but not in posterior uveal melanomas. Moreover we have shown that VEGF is hypoxia-inducible in retinoblastoma cells. These results suggest that focal hypoxia may act as a stimulus for VEGF production in retinoblastomas, that in turn may contribute to tumor growth by stimulating the formation of a vascular stroma.