Homosexual males often present signs of immune activation and are likely to have increased levels of inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma. These individuals develop Kaposi's sarcoma (AIDS-KS) more frequently than other HIV-1-infected groups. Our previous work demonstrated that inflammatory cytokines stimulate the growth of spindle cells derived from AIDS-KS lesions (AIDS-KS cells) and that these cells produce high levels of bFGF that mediate autocrine and paracrine (endothelial) cell growth and angiogenesis. Here we show that AIDS-KS cells constitutively produce and release bioactive bFGF in the absence of cell death, and that extracellular bFGF exist in both a soluble and a bound form; the latter can be released by treatment with trypsin, heparin, or heparinase I. Inflammatory cytokines stimulate both the synthesis and release of biologically active bFGF from KS cells and enhance their ability to induce angiogenic KS-like lesions in nude mice. Because bFGF is highly expressed in primary KS lesions, and is a mediator of KS-like lesion formation, these results suggest that the export of bFGF induced by inflammatory cytokines may play a critical role in the induction and progression of KS in HIV-1-infected homosexual men.