The multiple cellular and molecular processes induced by injury to the central nervous system (CNS) are still poorly understood. In the present study, we investigated the response of the vasculature and the expression of mRNA for the angiogenic vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) following X-irradiation of the spinal cord in the newborn and following traumatic spinal cord injury in the adult rat. Both lesion models induced changes in the density and the distribution pattern of blood vessels: while X-irradiation led to a permanent local increase in vascular density in the fibre tracts of the exposed segments, a transient local sprouting of vessels was induced upon traumatic spinal cord injury. In situ hybridization showed that an increase of VEGF mRNA anticipated and overlapped with the vascular responses in both lesion models. In addition to the temporal correlation of VEGF expression and vascular sprouting, there was a clear correlation in the spatial distribution patterns. Following X-irradiation, the expression of VEGF mRNA was restricted to the fibre tracts, precisely the areas where the changes in the vasculature were observed later on. Upon transection in the adult animal, VEGF was mainly detectable at the border of the lesion area, where the transient increase in vascular density could be observed. Interestingly, according to the type of lesion applied, astrocytes (X-irradiation) or inflammatory cells (presumably microglial cells or macrophages; traumatic lesion) are the cellular sources of VEGF mRNA. Our results strongly indicate that VEGF is crucially involved in mediating vascular changes following different types of injury in the CNS.