The expression of the pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide/vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (PACAP/VIP) receptor subtypes was evaluated in the normal rat pituitary gland and in different rat spontaneous transplantable SMtTW tumours (SMtTW2 which expresses prolactin (PRL), SMtTW10 which expresses GH and SMtTW3 which expresses both PRL and GH) by measurement of PACAP/VIP-stimulated adenylate cyclase activity and detection of the presence of mRNA coding for the different receptor forms. In normal glands, the order of potency of the peptides suggested that adenylate cyclase activity was mediated through interaction with PACAP selective receptors (PACAP I receptors); mRNAs coding for the PACAP I receptor, but also for the PACAP II VIP2 receptor, were detected. In SMtTW2 tumours, the functional response was close to that observed in the presence of PACAP II VIP2 receptors; mRNAs coding for PACAP I and PACAP II VIP1 and PACAP II VIP2 receptors were detected. In the SMtTW10 tumours, the functional response was complex but compatible with the involvement of PACAP I and PACAP II receptors; mRNAs coding for the PACAP I and PACAP II VIP1 receptors were detected. In the SMtTW3 tumour, the profile was similar to that of the normal pituitary gland and the mRNA coding for the PACAP I receptor only was detected. Thus, while the control of normal pituitary gland adenylate cyclase activity by PACAP and VIP was mediated by PACAP-selective receptors, in spontaneous transplantable tumours a variable profile was observed and PACAP, as well as VIP1 and VIP2 receptors, may contribute to the responses.