Although tumors can activate vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) promoter in host stromal cells, the relative contribution to VEGF production of host versus tumor cells and the resulting vascular response have not been quantitated to date. To this end, we implanted VEGF-/- and wild-type (WT) embryonic stem (ES) cells in transparent dorsal skin windows in severe combined immunodeficient mice. VEGF-/- ES cell-derived tumors produced approximately 50% of VEGF compared with the WT tumors, suggesting significant contribution of host stromal cells. To discern the hypoxia-induced hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-1alpha --> hypoxia response element (HRE) --> VEGF signaling cascade, we also examined tumors derived from HIF-1alpha-/- and HRE-/- ES cells. As expected, the VEGF protein level in HIF-1alpha-/- ES tumors was intermediate between VEGF-/- and WT ES cell tumors. Surprisingly, HRE-/- ES tumors produced the same level of VEGF as the VEGF-/- ES tumors, suggesting a critical role of HRE in tumor cell VEGF production. Angiogenesis in these tumors was proportional to their VEGF levels (VEGF-/- approximate to HRE-/- < HIF-1alpha-/- < WT). In contrast, vascular permeability, leukocyte-endothelial adhesion, and tumor growth were reduced in VEGF-/- and HRE-/- tumors but were comparable in HIF-1a-/- and WT tumors. This discrepancy suggests that different intracellular signaling pathways may be involved in each of these functions of VEGF. More importantly, these data suggest that host cells are active players in tumor angiogenesis and growth and need to be taken into account in the design of any therapeutic strategy.