1. We investigated the role of two conserved basic residues in the second transmembrane helix arginine 172 (R172) and lysine 179 (K179) of the VPAC(2) receptor. 2. Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) activated VPAC(2) receptors with an EC(50) value of 7 nM, as compared to 150, 190 and 4000 nM at R172L, R172Q and K179Q-VPAC(2) receptors, respectively. It was inactive at K179I mutated VPAC(2) receptors. These results suggested that both basic residues were probably implicated in receptor recognition and activation. 3. The VPAC(2)-selective VIP analogue, [hexanoyl-His(1)]-VIP (C(6)-VIP), had a higher affinity and efficacy as compared to VIP at the mutated receptors. 4. VIP, Asn(3)-VIP and Gln(3)-VIP activated adenylate cyclase through R172Q receptors with EC(50) values of 190, 2 and 2 nM, respectively, and through R172L receptors with EC(50) values of 150, 12 and 8 nM, respectively. Asn(3)-VIP and Gln(3)-VIP behaved as partial agonists at the wild type receptor, with E(max) values (in per cent of VIP) of 75 and 52%, respectively. In contrast, they were more efficient than VIP (E(max) values of 150 and 150% at the R172Q VPAC(2) receptors, and of 400 and 360% at the R172L receptors, respectively). These results suggested that the receptor's R172 and the ligand's aspartate 3 are brought in close proximity in the active ligand-receptor complex. 5. The K179I and K179Q mutated receptors had a lower affinity than the wild-type receptors for all the agonists tested in this work: we were unable to identify the VIP amino acid(s) that interact with K179.