Substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), released from capsaicin-sensitive sensory nerves induce local neurogenic inflammation, while somatostatin exerts systemic anti-inflammatory actions. The aim of the present study was to investigate the release of pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide-38 (PACAP-38) and its effects on sensory neuropeptide release in vitro and acute neurogenic ear swelling in vivo. Capsaicin (10(-6) M) or electrical field stimulation (EFS; 40 V, 0.1 ms, 10 Hz, 120 s; 1200 impulses)-induced release of PACAP-38, SP, CGRP and somatostatin from isolated rat tracheae was measured with radioimmunoassay. Mustard oil-induced neurogenic inflammation in the mouse ear was determined with a micrometer and in the rat hind paw skin by the Evans Blue leakage technique. Capsaicin and EFS evoked 27% and more than twofold elevation of PACAP-38 release respectively, compared with the prestimulated basal values from isolated trachea preparation. Exogenously administered PACAP-38 (20-2000 nM) diminished both capsaicin- and EFS-evoked sensory neuropeptide release in a concentration-dependent manner. The maximal inhibitory effects of PACAP on capsaicin-induced substance P, CGRP and somatostatin release amounted to 75.4%, 73.3% and 90.0%, while EFS-evoked release of these peptides was 80.03%, 87.7% and 67.7%. In case of capsaicin stimulation the EC50 values for substance P, CGRP and somatostatin were 82.9 nM, 60.1 nM and 66.9 nM, respectively. When EFS was performed, these corresponding EC50 data were 92.1 nM, 67.8 nM and 20.9 nM. PACAP-38 (10, 100 and 1000 microg/kg i.p. in 200 microl volume) inhibited neurogenic ear swelling in the mouse. Furthermore, 100 microg/kg i.p. PACAP also significantly diminished mustard oil-evoked plasma protein extravasation in the rat skin. These results suggest that PACAP-38 is released from the stimulated peripheral terminals of capsaicin-sensitive afferents and it is able to inhibit the outflow of sensory neuropeptides. Based on this mechanism of action PACAP is also able to effectively diminish/abolish neurogenic inflammatory response in vivo after systemic administration.