Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent angiogenic factor with a key role in several pathological processes, including tumour vascularization. Our preliminary observations indicated higher VEGF concentrations in serum samples than in matched plasma samples. We have now demonstrated that this difference is due to the presence of VEGF within platelets and its release upon their activation during coagulation. In eight healthy volunteers, serum VEGF concentrations ranged from 76 to 854 pg ml(-1) and were significantly higher (P < 0.01) than the matched citrated plasma VEGF concentrations, which ranged from < 9 to 42 pg ml(-1). Using platelet-rich plasma, mean (s.d.) platelet VEGF contents of 0.56 (0.36) pg of VEGF 10(-6) platelets were found. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated the cytoplasmic presence of VEGF within megakaryocytes and other cell types within the bone marrow. From examination of the effects of blood sample processing on circulating VEGF concentrations, it is apparent that for accurate measurements, citrated plasma processed within 1 h of venepuncture should be used. Serum is completely unsuitable. The presence of VEGF within platelets has implications for processes involving platelet and endothelial cell interactions. e.g. wound healing, and in tumour metastasis, when platelets adhering to circulating tumour cells may release VEGF at points of adhesion to endothelium, leading to hyperpermeability and extravasation of cells.