Pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) is a widely expressed neuropeptide that has been involved in nerve regeneration, neurone survival and nociception. In this study, the distribution of PACAP and PACAP-receptors were investigated in rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG), spinal cord and medulla oblongata at 3, 7 or 14 days following unilateral sciatic nerve transection using immunohistochemistry, 125I-PACAP-binding and in situ hybridisation. In control (contralateral side) DRG, about 30% of the nerve cell bodies (92% being small) were PACAP-immunoreactive (PACAP-IR). In the spinal cord, PACAP-IR fibres were seen in laminae I-II but not in the gracile nuclei. Following sciatic nerve transection, PACAP-IR fibres appeared in the gracile nuclei and occasionally in the deeper laminae of the dorsal horn consistent with the relative increase in larger PACAP-IR DRG neurones. However, the relative number of small PACAR-IR neurones was significantly lower on the transected side as compared to the control side suggesting a dual reaction for PACAP in the DRG following nerve injury. 125I-PACAP-binding was found in laminae I-II, around the central canal and in the gracile nuclei but not in the DRG. At 14 days after transection, 125I-PACAP-binding density was significantly reduced in the ipsilateral dorsal horn. PACAP-receptor (PAC(1)) mRNA was detected in neurones of the dorsal and ventral horn and in the gracile nuclei with no overt changes observed after transection. Very few DRG nerve cell bodies contained PAC(1) mRNA. The findings are consistent with a role for PACAP both in nociception and regeneration.