Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) expression increases in sympathetic neurons when they are grown in dissociated cell or explant cultures and when they are axotomized in vivo. In dissociated cell culture, the magnitude of the VIP increase was reduced when nonneuronal cells were removed and medium conditioned by ganglionic nonneuronal cells increased VIP in neuron-enriched cultures. Antiserum Against cholinergic differentiation factor (also leukemia inhibitory factor; CDF/LIF), but not against ciliary neurotrophic factor, immunoprecipitated this activity. Medium conditioned by sympathetic ganglion explants also contained a VIP-stimulatory molecule that was immunoprecipitated by CDF/LIF antiserum, and CDF/LIF antiserum partially blocked VIP induction in explants. CDF/LIF mRNA was increased in dissociated cell cultures, in ganglion explants and in vivo after axotomy. Our results suggest that CDF/LIF released from ganglionic nonneuronal cells plays an important role in regulating VIP after axotomy. 1994 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.