A growth factor for vascular endothelial cells was identified in the media conditioned by bovine pituitary follicular cells and purified to homogeneity by a combination of ammonium sulfate precipitation, heparin-sepharose affinity chromatography and two reversed phase HPLC steps. The growth factor was a cationic, heat stable and relatively acid stable protein and had a molecular weight, as assessed by silver-stained SDS-PAGE gel, of approximately 45,000 under non reducing conditions and approximately 23,000 under reducing conditions. The purified growth factor had a maximal mitogenic effect on adrenal cortex-derived capillary endothelial cells at the concentration of 1-1.2 ng/ml (22-26 pM). Further characterization of the bioactivity of the growth factor reveals that it exerts mitogenic effects also on vascular endothelial cells isolated from several districts but not on adrenal cortex cells, lens epithelial cells, corneal endothelial cells, keratynocytes or BHK-21 fibroblasts, indicating that its target cells specificity is unlike that of any previously characterized growth factor. Microsequencing reveals a unique N-terminal amino acid sequence. On the basis of its apparent target cell selectivity, we propose to name this factor vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).