Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is an angiogenic factor, and its expression has been rarely demonstrated in thyroid tumors. We, therefore, investigated the expression of VEGF messenger RNA (mRNA) and production of VEGF protein in cell lines from human primary and metastatic follicular (FTC-133, FTC-236, and FTC-238), papillary (TPC-1), Hürthle cell (XTC-1), and medullary thyroid cancers (MTC-1.1 and MTC-2.2), and in human thyroid tissues (papillary, follicular, medullary, and Hürthle cell cancers, follicular adenomas, and Graves' thyroid tissue) by Northern blot, immunohistochemistry, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) studies. All thyroid cell lines expressed a 4.2-kilobase VEGF mRNA. The VEGF mRNA levels were higher in the thyroid cancer cell lines than in primary cultures of normal thyroid cells, and higher in thyroid cancers of follicular than those of parafollicular cell origin. The VEGF mRNA levels were similar in primary and metastatic thyroid tumors. Immunohistochemical staining and Northern blot analysis of the cell lines correlated positively, thus thyroid cancer cell lines stained more intensely than normal thyroid cells and follicular tumor cells more intensely than parafollicular tumor cells. Again, no difference was noted in VEGF staining between primary and metastatic thyroid tumors. Deparafinized sections of papillary, follicular, and Hürthle cell cancers also stained much stronger than those of medullary thyroid cancers, benign, or hyperplastic (Graves' disease) thyroid tissue. Thyroid cancer cell lines (XTC-1 > TPC-1 > FTC-133 > MTC-1.1) also secreted more VEGF protein as measured by ELISA than did normal thyroid cells. VEGF secretion of cell lines derived from primary and metastatic thyroid tumors were similar. VEGF mRNA is therefore expressed, and VEGF protein is secreted by normal, hyperplastic, and neoplastic thyroid tissues. The higher levels of VEGF expression in differentiated thyroid cancers of follicular cell origin suggests a role in oncogenesis.