Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is induced by hypoxia and it has been implicated in the development of iris and retinal neovascularization (NV) in ischemic retinopathies in which it has been suggested that Muller cells are responsible for increased VEGF production. VEGF, however, is also known to be a potent mediator of vascular permeability in other tissues and may perform this function in retina. Immunohistochemical staining for VEGF was performed on a variety of human and experimental ischemic and non-ischemic ocular disorders in which blood retinal barrier (BRB) breakdown is known to occur to determine if there is an upregulation of VEGF in these conditions. We found increased VEGF immunoreactivity in ganglion cells of rats with oxygen-induced ischemic retinopathy and in ganglion cells, the inner plexiform layer, and some cells in the inner nuclear layer of rats with experimental autoimmune uveoretinitis (EAU), in which there was no identifiable ischemia or NV. In rats with EAU, VEGF staining intensity increased from 8 to 11 days after immunization, coincident with BRB failure. These results were confirmed using two distinct anti-VEGF antibodies and by immunoblot and the immunohistochemical staining was eliminated by pre-incubating the antibodies with VEGF peptide. VEGF staining was also increased in the retina and iris of patients with ischemic retinopathies, such as diabetic retinopathy and retinal vascular occlusive disease, and in patients with disorders in which retinal ischemia does not play a major role, such as aphakic/ pseudophakic cystoid macular edema, retinoblastoma, ocular inflammatory disease or infection, and choroidal melanoma. VEGF was primarily localized within retinal neurons and retinal pigmented epithelial cells in these cases. In addition or in association with its role of inducing NV, VEGF may contribute to BRB breakdown in a variety of ocular disorders and blockage of VEGF signaling may help to reduce some types of macular edema.