Bartonellosis, a biphasic disease caused by motile intracellular bacteria, produces in its tissue phase a characteristic dermal eruption (Verruga peruana) resulting from a pronounced endothelial cell proliferation. Bacteria are found in the interstitium and within the cytoplasm of endothelial cells (Rocha-Lima inclusion). The aim of this study was to determine if Bartonella bacilliformis produce a substance(s) that might be responsible for the vascular proliferation seen in the Verruga. This was assessed in an in vitro system using human endothelial cells and measuring proliferation as well as production of tissue type plasminogen activator after exposure to the endothelial cultures to B. bacilliformis extracts. Our results indicate that B. bacilliformis possess an activity that stimulates endothelial cell proliferation up to three times that of control. The factor(s) is specific for endothelial cells, heat sensitive, larger than 12 to 14 kd, not enhanced by heparin, has no affinity for heparin, and is precipitated by 45% ammonium sulfate. In addition, the B. bacilliformis extracts stimulate production of t-PA antigen in a concentration-dependent fashion. This activity is also heat sensitive and not lost after dialysis (12 to 14 kd). B. bacilliformis extracts, however, do not increase the production of plasminogen activator inhibitor. It was also determined that B. bacilliformis extracts stimulate the formation of new blood vessels in an in vivo model for angiogenesis. These results describe a bacterial factor(s) that stimulates two important steps in the development of new blood vessels in vitro, as well as the formation of new blood vessels in vivo. Determining the mechanism of action, combined with a complete characterization of this factor(s), may help in understanding the pathogenesis not only of the Verruga and angiogenesis in general but also the recently described Cat-Scratch-associated epithelioid hemangiomas in patients with AIDS and Kaposi sarcoma.