Dysfunctional lymphatic vessel formation has been implicated in a number of pathological conditions including cancer metastasis, lymphedema, and impaired wound healing. The vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family is a major regulator of lymphatic endothelial cell (LEC) function and lymphangiogenesis. Indeed, dissemination of malignant cells into the regional lymph nodes, a common occurrence in many cancers, is stimulated by VEGF family members. This effect is generally considered to be mediated via VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3. However, the role of specific receptors and their downstream signaling pathways is not well understood. METHODS AND RESULTS: Here we delineate the VEGF-C/VEGF receptor (VEGFR)-3 signaling pathway in LECs and show that VEGF-C induces activation of PI3K/Akt and MEK/Erk. Furthermore, activation of PI3K/Akt by VEGF-C/VEGFR-3 resulted in phosphorylation of P70S6K, eNOS, PLCgamma1, and Erk1/2. Importantly, a direct interaction between PI3K and VEGFR-3 in LECs was demonstrated both in vitro and in clinical cancer specimens. This interaction was strongly associated with the presence of lymph node metastases in primary small cell carcinoma of the lung in clinical specimens. Blocking PI3K activity abolished VEGF-C-stimulated LEC tube formation and migration. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings demonstrate that specific VEGFR-3 signaling pathways are activated in LECs by VEGF-C. The importance of PI3K in VEGF-C/VEGFR-3-mediated lymphangiogenesis provides a potential therapeutic target for the inhibition of lymphatic metastasis.