One of the key molecules promoting angiogenesis is the endothelial cell-specific mitogen, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF or VEGF-A), which acts through two high-affinity receptor tyrosine kinases (VEGFR), VEGFR-1 (or Flt-1) and VEGFR-2 (or KDR/Flk-1). It was shown before that a soluble variant of VEGFR-1 (sVEGFR-1) can be generated by differential splicing of the flt-1 mRNA. This soluble receptor is an antagonist to VEGF action, reducing the level of free, active VEGF-A, and therefore, plays a pivotal role in the generation of vascular diseases like pre-eclampsia or intra-uterine growth retardation. Here we show that sVEGFR-1 is produced by cultured human microvascular and macrovascular endothelial cells and a human melanoma cell line. The soluble receptor is mainly complexed with ligands; only 5-10% remains detectable as free, uncomplexed receptor protein. Furthermore, we show the time course of total and free sVEGFR-1 release together with its putative ligands, VEGF-A and placenta growth factor (PIGF), from macrovascular endothelial cells. The release of sVEGFR-1 was quantitatively measured in two different ELISA types. The release of sVEGFR-1 was strongly enhanced by phorbol-ester (PMA); the cells produced up to 22 ng/ml of sVEGFR-1 after 48 hours. The expression of VEGF-A and PIGF was moderately influenced by PMA. We also show a hypoxia-induced increase of sVEGFR-1 expression in cells cultured from placenta, a tissue that has a high flt-1 gene expression. Moreover, we demonstrate that sVEGFR-1 in amniotic fluids acts as a sink for exogenous VEGF165 and PIGF-2. Here, for the first time, to what extent recombinant ligands have to be added to compensate for the sink function of amniotic fluids was analyzed. In conclusion, human endothelial cells produce high levels of sVEGFR-1, which influences the availability of VEGF-A or related ligands. Therefore, sVEGFR-1 may reduce the ligand binding to transmembrane receptors and interfere with their signal transduction.