BACKGROUND: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is taken up by parasitized red blood cells during malaria and stimulates intra-erythrocytic growth of Plasmodium falciparum in vitro. The cause and consequence of this uptake is not understood. METHODS: Plasmodium falciparum was cultured in vitro. Parasite growth and intracellular VEGF levels were assessed using flow cytometry. Intracellular VEGF was visualized by fluorescence immunocytochemistry. Phosphorylated tyrosine was measured by western blotting. In vivo assessment of intra-erythrocytic VEGF was performed in Plasmodium berghei ANKA-infected C57BL/6 mice. RESULTS: VEGF accumulated intracellularly in infected red blood cells, particularly in schizonts. In vitro growth of P. falciparum was unchanged when co-cultured with the anti-VEGF antibody bevacizumab or with an anti-VEGF receptor-1 peptide. In contrast, the VEGF receptor-2 inhibitor, SU5416, dose-dependently inhibited growth. None of the treatments reduced intracellular VEGF levels. Thus, the anti-parasitic effect of SU5416 seemed independent of VEGF uptake. SU5416 reduced phosphorylated tyrosine in parasitized red blood cells. Similarly, the broad-spectrum tyrosine kinase inhibitor genistein dose-dependently inhibited P. falciparum growth and reduced tyrosine phosphorylation. Neither bevacizumab nor anti-VEGF receptor-1 peptide affected tyrosine kinase activity. Finally, in vivo uptake of VEGF in P. berghei ANKA was demonstrated, analogous to the in vitro uptake in P. falciparum, making it a possible model for the effects of VEGF signalling in vivo during malaria. CONCLUSIONS: Inhibition of VEGFR-2 signalling reduces intra-erythrocytic growth of P. falciparum, likely due to tyrosine kinase inhibition. Internalisation of VEGF in P. falciparum-infected red blood cells does not rely on VEGF receptors. The function of in vivo uptake of VEGF can be studied in rodent malaria models.