A small subset of familial pancreatic endocrine tumors (PET) arises in patients with von Hippel-Lindau syndrome and these tumors may have an adverse outcome compared to other familial PET. Sporadic PET rarely harbors somatic VHL mutations, but the chromosomal location of the VHL gene is frequently deleted in sporadic PET. A subset of sporadic PET shows active hypoxia signals on mRNA and protein level. To identify the frequency of functionally relevant VHL inactivation in sporadic PET and to examine a possible prognostic significance we correlated epigenetic and genetic VHL alterations with hypoxia signals. VHL mutations were absent in all 37 PETs examined. In 2 out of 35 informative PET (6%) methylation of the VHL promoter region was detected and VHL deletion by fluorescence in situ hybridization was found in 14 out of 79 PET (18%). Hypoxia inducible factor 1alpha (HIF1-alpha), carbonic anhydrase 9 (CA-9), and glucose transporter 1 (GLUT-1) protein was expressed in 19, 27, and 30% of the 152 PETs examined. Protein expression of the HIF1-alpha downstream target CA-9 correlated significantly with the expression of CA-9 RNA (P<0.001), VHL RNA (P<0.05), and VHL deletion (P<0.001) as well as with HIF1-alpha (P<0.005) and GLUT-1 immunohistochemistry (P<0.001). These PET with VHL alterations and signs of hypoxia signalling were characterized by a significantly shortened disease-free survival. We conclude that VHL gene impairment by promoter methylation and VHL deletion in nearly 25% of PET leads to the activation of the HIF-pathway. Our data suggest that VHL inactivation and consecutive hypoxia signals may be a mechanism for the development of sporadic PET with an adverse outcome.