The presence and distribution of pituitary adenylate cyclase activating peptide (PACAP) immunoreactivity were studied in the duck gastrointestinal tract using immunohistochemistry and radioimmunoassays. Expression and distribution of PACAP mRNA were also studied using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and hybridization techniques. In addition, a partial coding sequence (cds) of the duck growth hormone-releasing hormone (GRF)/PACAP gene was identified. The presence of both PACAP-38 and PACAP-27 was demonstrated, the former being the predominant form. PACAP immunoreactivity was found in neurons and fibers of the enteric nervous system (ENS), in endocrine cells and in the gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Double immunostaining showed that PACAP is almost completely colocalized with vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) in the ENS. Moreover, PACAP was also found in nitric oxide synthase (NOS)-containing neurons and nerve fibers. Radioimmunoassay (RIA) performed on denervated gut showed that more than one-half of the duodenal PACAP is extrinsic in origin. RT-PCR, Northern blot analysis and in situ hybridization confirmed the immunohistochemical data. The findings of the present study suggest that, in birds, PACAP may have multiple roles in regulating gastrointestinal functions.