Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) promotes neovascularization, microvascular permeability, and endothelial proliferation. We described previously VEGF mRNA and protein induction by estradiol (E2) in human endometrial fibroblasts. We report here E2 induction of VEGF expression in human venous muscle cells [smooth muscle cells (SMC) from human saphenous veins; HSVSMC] expressing both ER-alpha and ER-beta estrogen receptors. E2 at 10(-9) to 10(-8) M increases VEGF mRNA in HSVSMC in a time-dependent manner (3-fold at 24 h), as analyzed by semiquantitative RT-PCR. This level of induction is comparable with E2 endometrial induction of VEGF mRNA. Tamoxifen and hypoxia also increase HSVSMC VEGF mRNA expression over control values. Immunocytochemistry of saphenous veins and isolated SMC confirms translation of VEGF mRNA into protein. Immunoblot analysis of HSVSMC-conditioned medium detects three bands of 18, 23, and 28 kDa, corresponding to VEGF isoforms of 121, 165, and 189 amino acids. Radioreceptor assay of the conditioned medium produced by E2-stimulated HSVSMC reveals an increased VEGF secretion. Our data indicate that VEGF is E2, tamoxifen, and hypoxia inducible in cultured HSVSMC and E2 inducible in aortic SMC, suggesting E2 modulation of VEGF effects in angiogenesis, vascular permeability, and integrity.