Our earlier Golgi-electron microscopic study of bipolar cells in the rat visual cortex showed the axons of these neurons as forming asymmetric synapses (Peters and Kimerer; J. Neurocytol, 10:921-946, '81) in which the most common postsynaptic elements were dendritic spines. This result was unexpected, since Parnavelas (Parnavelas, Sullivan, Lieberman, and Webster: Cell Tissue Res. 183:499-517, '77) had earlier shown a bipolar cell from the same cortex to have an axon forming symmetric synapses with dendritic shafts. Here then was an enigma, strengthened by examination of neuronal components labelled by antibodies to two compounds in particular--namely, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT). Antibodies to these compounds preferentially label bipolar cells in the rat cerebral cortex, and the labelled axon terminals form symmetric synapses. Against this background the present study was performed, and it has been shown that the resolution to the enigma is that there are two different populations of bipolar cells in the rat visual cortex. Thus some Golgi-impregnated bipolar cells examined by electron microscopy after gold toning have been found to possess axons forming asymmetric synapses, and others have been found to have axons forming symmetric synapses. The axons of the bipolar cells forming asymmetric synapses most commonly synapse with dendritic spines (67%), although other terminals synapse with dendritic shafts (33%). In contrast, the bipolar cells with axons forming symmetric synapses preferentially synapse with dendritic shafts (100%). The population of bipolar cells that form symmetric synapses includes the ones that label with antibodies to vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), for the axons of VIP-labelled bipolar cells have been traced to labelled terminals forming symmetric synapses. However, examination of the population of VIP-labelled axon terminals shows that in addition to dendritic shafts, some of the labelled terminals synapse with the cell bodies of pyramidal and nonpyramidal cells. This includes bipolar cells, some of which receive large numbers of VIP-labelled axon terminals. It is also shown that some VIP-positive bipolar cells have myelinated axons. Analysis of tissue labelled with VIP antibody reveals that about 50% of the total population of bipolar cells in the rat visual cortex is VIP positive. These results are discussed in the light of information about labelling of bipolar cells with antibodies to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and to other peptides, and it is suggested that most VIP-positive bipolar cells also contain GABA.