Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by the selective death of motoneurons. Recently, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has been identified as a neurotrophic factor and has been implicated in the mechanisms of pathogenesis of ALS and other neurological diseases. The potential neuroprotective effects of VEGF in a rat spinal cord organotypic culture were studied in a model of chronic glutamate excitotoxicity in which glutamate transporters are inhibited by threohydroxyaspartate (THA). Particularly, we focused on the effects of VEGF in the survival and vulnerability to excitotoxicity of spinal cord motoneurons. VEGF receptor-2 was present on spinal cord neurons, including motoneurons. Chronic (3 weeks) treatment with THA induced a significant loss of motoneurons that was inhibited by co-exposure to VEGF (50 ng/mL). VEGF activated the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt (PI3-K/Akt) signal transduction pathway in the spinal cord cultures, and the effect on motoneuron survival was fully reversed by the specific PI3-K inhibitor, LY294002. VEGF also prevented the down-regulation of Bcl-2 and survivin, two proteins implicated in anti-apoptotic and/or anti-excitotoxic effects, after THA exposure. Together, these findings indicate that VEGF has neuroprotective effects in rat spinal cord against chronic glutamate excitotoxicity by activating the PI3-K/Akt signal transduction pathway and also reinforce the hypothesis of the potential therapeutic effects of VEGF in the prevention of motoneuron degeneration in human ALS.