Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent vascular permeability factor and a mediator of brain edema. To assess the role of VEGF during bacterial meningitis, VEGF was measured in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood of 37 patients with bacterial meningitis and 51 control patients, including 16 patients with viral meningitis. Circulating VEGF levels were similar in bacterial meningitis patients and control patients. VEGF(CSF) was detected in 11 (30%) of 37 of bacterial meningitis patients (range, <25-633 pg/mL) but in none of the control patients. The median VEGF index was 6.2 (range, 0.6-42), indicating intrathecal production. Median CSF cell counts, protein levels, and CSF: serum albumin ratios were higher for patients with detectable VEGF(CSF), although the difference was not statistically significant. VEGF immunoreactivity in autopsy brain specimens was found in the inflammatory infiltrate of patients with bacterial meningitis. These results indicate that inflammatory cells secrete VEGF during bacterial meningitis and that VEGF may contribute to blood-brain barrier disruption.