Vasopressin is emerging as a rational therapy for vasodilatory shock states. Unlike other vasoconstrictor agents, vasopressin also has vasodilatory properties. The goal of the present review is to explore the vascular actions of vasopressin. In part 1 of the review we discuss structure, signaling pathways, and tissue distributions of the classic vasopressin receptors, namely V1 vascular, V2 renal, V3 pituitary and oxytocin receptors, and the P2 class of purinoreceptors. Knowledge of the function and distribution of vasopressin receptors is key to understanding the seemingly contradictory actions of vasopressin on the vascular system. In part 2 of the review we discuss the effects of vasopressin on vascular smooth muscle and the heart, and we summarize clinical studies of vasopressin in shock states.