1. Dysregulated vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression has been reported in several pathological states based upon evidence of elevated serum VEGF levels. Using two immunoassays for VEGF, this study determines normal plasma and serum VEGF ranges, determines which are more likely to reflect circulating VEGF levels and investigates a potential contribution of VEGF from platelets to VEGF levels detected in serum. 2. The presence of soluble VEGF receptor, sflt-1, at a molar excess of 7:1 significantly reduced measured VEGF levels in both assays. Serum VEGF levels were higher than plasma levels in children [(mean +/- S.E.M.) 306.1 +/- 39.4 versus 107.4 +/- 24.9 pg/ml, P < 0.0001] and adults (249.4 +/- 46.4 versus 76.1 +/- 10.7 pg/ml, P < 0.0001). Serum VEGF increased with clotting time (P = 0.0005 t0 compared with 2 h samples); plasma VEGF levels were not affected by time between sampling and centrifugation. 3. Calcium-induced clotting of platelet-rich but not platelet-poor plasma induced VEGF release with a proportional response between platelet count and VEGF level and isolated platelets released significant quantities of VEGF upon incubation with thrombin. Reverse transcriptase-PCR studies confirmed that platelets express VEGF121 and VEGF165 mRNA. 4. These data suggest that plasma is the preferred medium to measure VEGF levels; a significant and highly variable platelet-mediated secretion of VEGF during the clotting process invalidates the use of serum as an indicator of circulating VEGF levels in disease states.