The purpose of these experiments was to investigate a potential role for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in mediating vascular dysfunction induced by increased glucose flux via the sorbitol pathway. Skin chambers were mounted on the backs of Sprague-Dawley rats and 1 wk later, granulation tissue in the chamber was exposed twice daily for 7 d to 5 mM glucose, 30 mM glucose, or 1 mM sorbitol in the presence and absence of neutralizing VEGF antibodies. Albumin permeation and blood flow were increased two- to three-fold by 30 mM glucose and 1 mM sorbitol; these increases were prevented by coadministration of neutralizing VEGF antibodies. Blood flow and albumin permeation were increased approximately 2.5-fold 1 h after topical application of recombinant human VEGF and these effects were prevented by nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitors (aminoguanidine and N(G)-monomethyl L-arginine). Topical application of a superoxide generating system increased albumin permeation and blood flow and these changes were markedly attenuated by VEGF antibody and NOS inhibitors. Application of sodium nitroprusside for 7 d or the single application of a calcium ionophore, A23187, mimicked effects of glucose, sorbitol, and VEGF on vascular dysfunction and the ionophore effect was prevented by coadministration of aminoguanidine. These observations suggest a potentially important role for VEGF in mediating vascular dysfunction induced by "hypoxia-like" cytosolic metabolic imbalances (reductive stress, increased superoxide, and nitric oxide production) linked to increased flux of glucose via the sorbitol pathway.