The effects of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP27 and PACAP38) on isolated parasympathetic neurons of rat intracardiac and submandibular ganglia were examined under voltage clamp using whole-cell patch-clamp recording techniques. VIP and PACAP (≤ 10 n m) selectively and reversibly increased the affinity of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channels (nAChRs) for their agonists resulting in a potentiation of acetylcholine (ACh)-evoked whole-cell currents at low agonist concentrations. VIP-induced potentiation was observed with either ACh or nicotine as the cholinergic agonist. The VIP- but not the PACAP-induced potentiation of ACh-evoked currents was inhibited by [Ac-Tyr1, D-Phe2]-GRF 1–29, amide (100 nm), a selective antagonist of VPAC1 and VPAC2 receptors; whereas the PACAP38- but not the VIP-induced potentiation was inhibited by 100 nm PACAP6–38, a PAC1 and VPAC2 receptor antagonist. The signal transduction pathway mediating VIP- and PACAP-induced potentiation of nicotinic ACh-evoked currents involves a pertussis toxin (PTX)-sensitive G-protein. Intracellular application of 200 μm GTPγS or GDPβS inhibited VIP-induced potentiation of ACh-evoked whole-cell currents. GTPγS alone potentiated ACh- and nicotine-evoked currents and the magnitude of these currents was not further increased by VIP or PACAP. The G-protein subtype modulating the neuronal nAChRs was examined by intracellular dialysis with antibodies directed against αo, αi-1,2, αi-3 or β G-protein subunits. Only the anti-Gαo and anti-Gβ antibodies significantly inhibited the effect of VIP and PACAP on ACh-evoked currents. The potentiation of ACh-evoked currents by VIP and PACAP may be mediated by a membrane-delimited signal transduction cascade involving the PTX-sensitive Go protein.