AIM: To investigate vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA expression in glomerular disease in the context of heavy proteinuria. METHODS: Non-radioisotopic in situ hybridisation was performed using a cocktail of 12 deoxyoligonucleotides complementary to VEGF mRNA labelled during solid phase synthesis with 2,4-dinitrophenyl. Archival renal biopsies were studied from cases of minimal change nephropathy, membranous nephropathy, diabetic nephropathy, and controls, matched for age, sex, race, and storage time. Hybrid detection used NBT/BCIP colorimetric development. RESULTS: More VEGF mRNA positive glomerular cells per unit cross sectional diameter were seen in minimal change nephropathy (mean (SEM), 19.35 (1.5)) compared with controls (12.6 (1.73)), p < 0.01. In contrast, fewer were seen in diabetic nephropathy (5.93 (0.97)) compared with controls (9.97 (1.25)), p < 0.03. Analysis of membranous nephropathy (10 (1.62)) showed no difference from controls (10.98 (1.51)), NS. In addition, in minimal change nephropathy there was a significant correlation between 24 hour protein excretion at the time of biopsy and the number of VEGF mRNA cells per glomerulus (r = 0.08, p = 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Using non-radioisotopic in situ hybridisation, VEGF mRNA is almost exclusively expressed by visceral glomerular epithelial cells. Abnormal numbers of cells are seen in both minimal change and diabetic nephropathy. As VEGF exists in a number of functionally distinct isoforms, further study of qualitative VEGF isoform expression in diagnostic groups is indicated.