Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has potent angiogenic and neuroprotective effects in the ischemic brain. Its effect on axonal plasticity and neurological recovery in the post-acute stroke phase was unknown. Using behavioral tests combined with anterograde tract tracing studies and with immunohistochemical and molecular biological experiments, we examined effects of a delayed i.c.v. delivery of recombinant human VEGF(165), starting 3 days after stroke, on functional neurological recovery, corticorubral plasticity and inflammatory brain responses in mice submitted to 30 min of middle cerebral artery occlusion. We herein show that the slowly progressive functional improvements of motor grip strength and coordination, which are induced by VEGF, are accompanied by enhanced sprouting of contralesional corticorubral fibres that branched off the pyramidal tract in order to cross the midline and innervate the ipsilesional parvocellular red nucleus. Infiltrates of CD45+ leukocytes were noticed in the ischemic striatum of vehicle-treated mice that closely corresponded to areas exhibiting Iba-1+ activated microglia. VEGF attenuated the CD45+ leukocyte infiltrates at 14 but not 30 days post ischemia and diminished the microglial activation. Notably, the VEGF-induced anti-inflammatory effect of VEGF was associated with a downregulation of a broad set of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines in both brain hemispheres. These data suggest a link between VEGFs immunosuppressive and plasticity-promoting actions that may be important for successful brain remodeling. Accordingly, growth factors with anti-inflammatory action may be promising therapeutics in the post-acute stroke phase. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.