Despite recognition of chronic vasculo-occlusive disease in solid organ transplantation, the exact pathophysiologic events resulting in neointima formation remain to be elucidated. Since acidic fibroblast growth factor (FGF-1) is an established modulator of vascular cell function, we examined the expression of this growth factor and its high affinity receptors in both relevant renal transplant controls (n=5) and tissue from patients (n=19) who underwent nephrectomy following graft loss secondary to chronic rejection. In situ hybridization and immunohistochemical studies demonstrated minimal vascular expression and distribution of FGF-1 and FGF high affinity receptors in the normal human kidney. In contrast, vascular lesions in kidney allografts experiencing chronic rejection demonstrated the exaggerated appearance of FGF-1 ligand and receptors. Immunoreactive FGF-1 readily was detected in medial smooth muscle cells and focal areas of intimal hyperplasia, particularly in association with the presence of inflammatory infiltrate. Enhanced staining for FGF-1 mRNA primarily was associated with the appearance of resident inflammatory cells. Medial smooth muscle cells of hyperplastic vascular structures demonstrated the greatest immunoappearance of FGF receptors - however, diffuse immunostaining also was observed in areas of intimal hyperplasia. The enhanced appearance of both FGF-1 and FGF receptors in the vascular wall suggests that this polypeptide mitogen may serve as an important mediator of growth responses associated with neointima development and angiogenesis during chronic rejection of human renal allografts.