Marked neovascularization is a hallmark of many neoplasms in the nervous system. Recent reports indicate that the endothelial mitogen vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) may play a critical role in the regulation of vascular endothelial proliferation in malignant gliomas. Using novel monoclonal antibodies to the VEGF polypeptide we have determined the expression and cellular distribution of VEGF protein in a representative series of 171 human central nervous system (CNS) tumors by immunohistochemistry and immunoblotting. In agreement with previous in situ hybridization data, 19 out of 20 glioblastomas (95%) showed immunoreactivity for VEGF, whereas both the percentage of immunoreactive tumors and the extent of immunoreactivity for VEGF were significantly lower in astrocytomas. Of the pilocytic astrocytomas (WHO grade I) 44% were immunoreactive for VEGF, but we observed several cases with pronounced vascular proliferates in the absence of VEGF. In ependymomas, meningiomas, hemangioblastomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors, there was no correlation between VEGF expression, vascular endothelial proliferation and the grade of malignancy. Oligodendrogliomas and the oligodendroglial component of mixed gliomas lacked immunoreactive VEGF, indicating that endothelial growth factors other than VEGF may regulate tumor angiogenesis in these neoplasms. Western blot analysis showed a predominant VEGF protein species of 23 kDa and confirmed the immunohistochemical data in all cases. Our findings demonstrate that VEGF is expressed in a wide spectrum of brain tumors in which it may induce neovascularization. However, other angiogenic factors also appear to contribute to the vascularization of CNS neoplasms.