The development of ovarian follicles and subsequent corpus luteum formation is accompanied by very active angiogenesis. Ovarian granulosa cells produce vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which is a potent endothelial cell mitogen and an angiogenic agent. The complementary DNAs of two other factors structurally related to VEGF, namely VEGF-B and VEGF-C, were recently cloned, but little is known of their regulation in the ovary. We first studied the expression of the messenger RNAs (mRNAs) of the three VEGF isotypes in freshly isolated human granulosa-luteal (GL) cells obtained at oocyte retrieval for in vitro fertilization. The hormonal regulation of these mRNAs was subsequently studied in primary cultures of human GL cells. Analysis of cultured GL cell RNA by reverse transcription-PCR revealed that these cells express the alternatively spliced transcripts representing 121-, 145-, and 165-amino acid VEGF isoforms. Northern blot hybridization analyses indicated that transcripts of 4.5 and 3.7 kilobases for VEGF, and 1.4 and 2.4 kilobases for VEGF-B and VEGF-C, respectively, are expressed in human GL cells. The basal VEGF mRNA levels declined steadily, whereas VEGF-B mRNA levels were rather invariant over a 10-day culture period of GL cells. In contrast, VEGF-C mRNA levels increased toward the end of culture. For studying the hormonal regulation of VEGF isotype mRNAs, GL cells were treated with hCG, recombinant human FSH, PGE2, as well as 8-bromo-cAMP and 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate, which activate protein kinase A- and protein kinase C-dependent signaling pathways, respectively. All test agents stimulated the expression of VEGF mRNA levels in a concentration-dependent manner. Time-course studies indicated that all treatments induced VEGF mRNA levels as early as incubation for 2 h, and the effect was sustained up to 48 h. VEGF-B mRNA levels were not regulated by any of the test agents. However, we found that hCG and 8-bromo-cAMP decreased VEGF-C mRNA levels with a maximal response observed at 24 and 48 h after cellular treatment. We conclude that the mRNAs of VEGF, VEGF-B, and VEGF-C are expressed in human GL cells and that their mRNA steady state levels are regulated in cultured human GL cells in an isotype-specific manner. The differential regulation of VEGF, VEGF-B, and VEGF-C in human GL cells suggests that distinct VEGF isotypes may play different roles during the vascularization of the human ovarian follicle and corpus luteum.