Thrombospondin (TSP) is a Mr 450,000 multifunctional matrix glycoprotein that interferes with tumor growth, angiogenesis, and metastasis. It has recently been shown that TSP expression is enhanced by the product of the p53 gene and that a down-regulation of TSP may be observed when alterations of the p53 protein occur. Moreover, a number of studies have demonstrated a regulatory activity of p53 on human vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), although additional investigations will be necessary to understand their relationship. In non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), neoangiogenesis, p53 alterations, and VEGF expression seem to have meaningful implications in the development and progression of this type of cancer. The aim of this study is to identify and quantitate TSP I and TSP II mRNA in NSCLCs with respect to p53 alterations, angiogenic growth factor expression, and microvascular density. A series of 24 cases of NSCLC were analyzed. Eleven of 24 of the cases were positive for TSP II mRNA, whereas 8 of 24 showed TSP I mRNA expression. A significant inverse association was found between TSP I mRNA and fibroblast growth factor (FGF) protein expression (P = 0.00001). Tumors with low FGF protein expression (< or = 40% of positive cells) presented a number of TSP I cDNA molecules, significantly higher than tumors expressing high levels of FGF protein. No association was found between TSP mRNA expression and other angiogenic growth factors (i.e., VEGF) or tumoral neovascularization. On the contrary, tumors with high levels of FGF showed a higher number of microvessels (P = 0.05). By PCR-single-strand conformational polymorphism analysis, we observed aberrations of the p53 gene in 19 of the 24 tumor samples. No association was found between p53 alterations and TSP mRNA expression. Instead, an interestingly significant association was found between the presence of p53 mutations and high VEGF protein expression (P = 0.01) and neovascularization (P = 0.03). Highly vascularized tumors showed higher VEGF protein expression (r = 0.45; P = 0.02). These data support the concept that in NSCLC, p53 exerts an important role in the control of neoangiogenesis. This influence is probably mediated by VEGF. The inverse association we found between TSP I and basic FGF suggests a different role of TSP I and TSP II in the angiogenic "switch," supporting the hypothesis that especially TSP I may have a significant function in tumor angiogenesis.