[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Prominent among molecules that control neovascular processes is vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The VEGF ligands comprise a family of well-studied mitogens/permeability factors that bind cell surface receptor tyrosine kinases. Targets include VEGF receptor-1/Flt1 and VEGF receptor-2/Flk1. Mice lacking genes for VEGF ligand or VEGF receptor-2 die early in gestation, making it difficult to determine the precise nature of underlying endothelial cellular behavior(s). To examine the effect(s) of VEGF signaling on cell behavior in detail, we conducted loss-of-function studies using avian embryos. Injection of soluble VEGFR-1 results in malformed vascular networks and the absence of large vessels. In the most severe cases embryos exhibited vascular atresia. Closely associated with the altered phenotype was a clear endothelial cell response-a marked decrease in cell protrusive activity. Further, we demonstrate that VEGF gain of function strikingly increased cell protrusive activity. Together, our data show that VEGF/VEGF receptor signaling regulates endothelial cell protrusive activity, a key determinant of blood vessel morphogenesis. We propose that VEGF functions as an instructive molecule during de novo blood vessel morphogenesis.