Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a reactive oxygen species generated by several metabolic pathways in mammalian cells. Endothelial cells are extremely susceptible to oxidative stress. H2O2 has been reported to increase the permeability in these cells. Using rat heart endothelial cell culture as a model system, we examined the effect of H2O2 on the gene expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a potent mitogen of endothelial cells and a vascular permeability factor. By Northern blot analysis we found that VEGF mRNA responded to H2O2 in a dose-and time-dependent manner. The induction was superinduced by cycloheximide and blocked by actinomycin D. N-Acetylcysteine, a synthetic antioxidant, was able to suppress the induction. H7, a protein kinase C inhibitor, could also block the induction. Electrophoretic mobility shift assay revealed an enhanced binding of transcription factors, AP-1 and NF-kappaB. Immunoblot analysis showed that the amount of secreted VEGF was elevated in the medium 4 h after H2O2 stimulation. Our results demonstrate that VEGF gene expression is upregulated by H2O2 in these endothelial cells.