Vascular permeability factor/vascular endothelial growth factor (VPF/VEGF) is a polypeptide mediator, elaborated by certain tumors and other cell types, that exerts multiple effects on endothelium via interaction with a class of high-affinity binding sites. In this report, the interaction of VPF/VEGF with human mononuclear phagocytes (MPs) is characterized. Radioligand binding studies at 4 degrees C showed the presence of a single class of binding sites, kd approximately 300 to 500 pmol/L (approximately 20 times lower affinity than the high-affinity binding site on endothelial cells [ECs]), the occupancy of which correlated with VPF/VEGF-induced MP migration and expression of tissue factor. These binding results were paralleled by functional experiments which indicated that the same VPF/VEGF preparations were about an order of magnitude less effective in stimulating MP chemotaxis than in inducing EC proliferation. When MPs with surface-bound 125I-VPF/VEGF were warmed to 37 degrees C, endocytosis and degradation occurred. Occupancy of VPF/VEGF binding site resulted in subsequent activation of intracellular signal transduction mechanisms, as shown by an increase in MP intracellular calcium concentration. Cross-linking studies with 125I-VPF/VEGF showed a new high-molecular weight band (corresponding to putative 125I- VPF/VEGF-receptor complex), the appearance of which was blocked by excess unlabeled VPF/VEGF. Consistent with these results, immunoprecipitation of 32PO4-labeled MPs exposed to VPF/VEGF showed a single band of similar mobility, not seen in untreated controls. These results demonstrate that the interaction of VPF/VEGF with MPs, though of lower affinity than that observed with ECs, also results from interaction of the polypeptide with a specific cell-surface protein and leads to activation of intracellular transduction mechanisms.