A specific and sensitive fluorometric enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was developed to measure endogenous levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF165) in human plasma. The ELISA can be performed in 10% human EDTA plasma, yielding a neat plasma sensitivity of 10 pg/ml or 0.2 pM. The recovery of recombinant human VEGF (rhVEGF) added to human plasma ranges from 89 to 100%. The capture antibody depletes the endogenous signal in normal human plasma, suggesting that the signal is specific for VEGF. The inter-assay and intra-assay coefficients of variation (CV) for the ELISA ranges from 5 to 14% and 8 to 18%, respectively. Characterization of the ELISA using plasmin derived VEGF variants suggests the assay is specific for the VEGF165 isoform. The heterodimer, VEGF(165/110) quantitates similar to that of the intact VEGF165 homodimer, however, the homodimers VEGF121, VEGF110 and the carboxy terminal domain (residues 111-165) are not detected in the assay. Circulating endogenous VEGF levels measured in 50 normal healthy individuals range from 20 to 141 pg/ml, with a mean of 42 +/- 22 pg/ml. There were no significant differences in VEGF levels between males and females. Circulating endogenous VEGF levels in cancer patients ranged from 32 to 418 pg/ml, averaging 129 +/- 17 pg/ml.