The in vitro culture of endothelial cells (EC) is dependent on the presence of a coated surface and the availability of growth factors in the medium. The aim of the present research is to investigate whether in vitro EC culture conditions, such as serum source and surface coating, determine the growth characteristics of EC. The phenotype of EC was studied at the level of adhesion molecule expression and down-regulation by angiogenic factors. We found that human umbilical vein EC adhere well to and stretch well with plastic coated with fibronectin, collagen, gelatin and hyaluronan in contrast to non-coated plastic. While low in hyaluronan-coated wells, the spontaneous proliferation of EC was enhanced in fibronectin-collagen and gelatin-coated wells as compared to non-coated wells. Basic fibroblast growth factor bFGF-induced proliferation, however, was best on hyaluronan-coated plastic. A markedly up-regulated proliferation was measured on fibronectin and collagen while EC on gelatin-coated plastic only showed moderate bFGF-induced proliferation. On non-coated plastic EC were not inducible with bFGF. The induction of apoptosis by serum deprivation on these different matrices was most efficient when no coat was available or when wells were coated with hyaluronan, and bFGF inhibited apoptosis induction under all conditions. The use of different culture media demonstrated that human and bovine serum both can be used for human EC assays. The synthetic medium Utroser G prevented both spontaneous and growth factor-induced proliferation. We found that apart from some magnitude differences, the down-regulation of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) by angiogenic factors such as bFGF is not dependent on specific culture conditions.