Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) blood levels in cirrhosis are elevated, but its hemodynamic and receptor characteristics remain unclarified. We aimed to quantify VIP receptor characteristics in mesenteric arteries, plasma VIP concentration by radioimmunoassay (RIA), and the hemodynamic effects of VIP infusion in bile duct-ligated (BDL) cirrhotic and sham-operated control rats. Mesenteric arterial membranes were prepared by ultracentrifugation, and receptor characteristics were studied using 125I-labeled VIP as a radioligand. For the hemodynamic study, there were four groups: cirrhotic and sham-operated rats were infused with either VIP (50 ng/kg/min for 15 minutes) or equivolumic isotonic saline. Regional blood flows were measured in conscious rats with radioactive microspheres. Receptor studies showed high-and low-affinity binding sites for VIP, which had similar equilibrium dissociation constants (binding affinities) and receptor densities for both the cirrhotic and control rats. Plasma VIP concentrations were significantly elevated in the cirrhotic rats. In both cirrhotic and sham-operated rats, VIP infusion produced plasma levels approximately twofold to threefold increased over the basal levels observed in cirrhotic rats. In cirrhotic rats, VIP infusion did not affect any hemodynamic parameter, whereas in the sham-operated rats VIP infusion significantly increased the mesenteric visceral blood flow. These results show that the hyporesponsiveness to VIP in cirrhotic rats is not attributable to receptor downregulation, implying postreceptor alterations. This suggests that VIP may not play a major role in the maintenance of splanchnic hyperemia in cirrhosis.