Vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) is a recently characterized member of the VEGF family of angiogenic polypeptides. We demonstrate here that VEGF-C is angiogenic in vitro when added to bovine aortic or lymphatic endothelial (BAE and BLE) cells but has little or no effect on bovine microvascular endothelial (BME) cells. As reported previously for VEGF, VEGF-C and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) induced a synergistic in vitro angiogenic response in all three cells lines. Unexpectedly, VEGF and VEGF-C also synergized in the in vitro angiogenic response when assessed on BAE cells. Characterization of VEGF receptor (VEGFR) expression revealed that BME, BAE, and BLE cell lines express VEGFR-1 and -2, whereas of the three cell lines assessed, only BAE cells express VEGFR-3. We also demonstrate that VEGF-C increases plasminogen activator (PA) activity in the three bovine endothelial cell lines and that this is accompanied by a concomitant increase in PA inhibitor-1. Addition of alpha2-antiplasmin to BME cells co-treated with bFGF and VEGF-C partially inhibited collagen gel invasion. These results demonstrate, first, that by acting in concert with bFGF or VEGF, VEGF-C has a potent synergistic effect on the induction of angiogenesis in vitro and, second, that like VEGF and bFGF, VEGF-C is capable of altering endothelial cell extracellular proteolytic activity. These observations also highlight the notion of context, i.e., that the activity of an angiogenesis-regulating cytokine depends on the presence and concentration of other cytokines in the pericellular environment of the responding endothelial cell.