The neuropeptide Y (NPY), peptide YY (PYY) and pancreatic polypeptide (PP) family of hormones exhibit a wide variety of biological actions on the mammalian gastrointestinal tract through known G-protein coupled receptor pathways. At least four receptor subtypes, denoted as Y(1), Y(2), Y(4) an Y(5), each with specific affinities to NPY ligands, serve as regulators of mucosal function, gastrointestinal motility and secretion. Investigations to date, however, have implicated the NPY peptides as mediators in the pathogenesis of numerous gastrointestinal disorders, including malabsorption, short gut, inflammatory bowel diseases, and forms of pancreatitis. Our understanding of these diseases and the interactions of NPY peptides have been advanced by the development of receptor agonists and antagonists that can be used experimentally in animal models. Potent selective PYY agonists have been developed that exhibit clinical potential as proabsorptive agents. NPY receptor agonists and antagonists as well as mice harboring null mutations in the Y(1) and Y(4) receptors have provided novel approaches in preventing intestinal inflammation and diarrhea. The use of competitive antagonists and Y(2) receptor knockouts have also aided in understanding secretory tone and electrogenic ion transport in the colon. In the pancreas, PYY suppresses amylase and cytokine release, which would be desirable in the clinical therapy of pancreatitis. Protein/DNA array analysis has revealed that PYY reduces transcription factor binding activity and disrupts signal transduction pathways activated by TNF-alpha in acinar cells. The present review gives an overview of NPY research in gastrointestinal disease and discusses its clinical relevance and potential use as therapy.