Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and the pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptides (PACAPs) share 68% identity at the amino acid level and belong to the secretin peptide family. Following the initial discovery of VIP almost four decades ago a substantial amount of knowledge has been presented describing the mechanisms of action, distribution and pleiotropic functions of these related peptides. It is now known that the physiological actions of these widely distributed peptides are produced through activation of three common G-protein coupled receptors (VPAC(1), VPAC(2) and PAC(1)R) which preferentially stimulate adenylate cyclase and increase intracellular cAMP, although stimulation of other intracellular messengers, including calcium and phospholipase D, has been reported. Using a range of in vitro and in vivo approaches, including cell-based functional assays, transgenic animals and rodent models of disease, VPAC/PAC receptor activation has been associated with numerous physiological processes (e.g. control of circadian rhythms) and clinical conditions (e.g. pulmonary hypertension), which underlies on-going research efforts and makes these peptides and their cognate receptors attractive targets for the pharmaceutical industry. However, despite the considerable interest in VPAC/PAC receptors and the processes which they mediate, there is still a paucity of selective and available, non-peptide ligands, which has hindered further advances in this field both at the basic research and clinical level. This review summarises the current knowledge of VIP/PACAP and the VPAC/PAC receptors with regard to their distribution, pharmacology, signalling pathways, splice variants and finally, the utility of animal models in exploring their physiological roles.