The angiogenic factor platelet-derived endothelial cell growth factor/thymidine phosphorylase (PD-ECGF/TP) is expressed at higher levels in a wide variety of solid tumors compared to adjacent normal tissues. Patients with PD-ECGF/TP-positive colon and esophageal tumors have a poorer prognosis than those with negative tumors. The expression of PD-ECGF/TP is a prognostic factor independent of microvessel density suggesting that TP has effects on tumor progression independent of its angiogenic activity. Evidence that hypoxia and apoptosis affect tumor growth prompted us to determine whether increased expression of PD-ECGF/TP prevents apoptosis induced by hypoxia. KB/TP cells transfected with a PD-ECGF/TP cDNA were resistant to hypoxia-induced apoptosis. Among the degradation products of thymidine produced by PD-ECGF/TP, 2-deoxy-D-ribose and thymine partially prevented hypoxia-induced apoptosis. The ability of 1 microM 2-deoxy-D-ribose in combination with the same concentration of thymine to prevent hypoxia-induced apoptosis was similar to that of the overexpressed TP in KB cells. A concentration of 1 microM 2-deoxy-L-ribose abrogated the effects of these degradation products of thymidine. These findings suggested that TP can confer resistance to apoptosis induced by hypoxia and the degradation products of thymidine are involved in this resistance. Expression of PD-ECGF/TP may play an important role in the progression of solid tumors, and inhibitors of TP and analogs of the degradation products of thymidine may suppress the growth of tumors by promoting apoptosis.