The innervation of cerebral blood vessels by nerve fibers containing calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and the vasomotor effects of this peptide are described for a number of different mammalian species. CGRP-immunoreactive nerve fibers were present in the adventitia of cerebral arteries in all species examined (guinea pig, cat, rabbit, rat, and mouse). Numerous perikarya containing CGRP immunoreactivity are demonstrable in the trigeminal ganglion of all species. In the cerebral perivascular nerve fibers and in trigeminal perikarya, CGRP is often colocalized with substance P and neurokinin A. Marked interspecies differences exist both in the density of CGRP-immunoreactive nerve fibers and in the cerebrovascular levels measured with radioimmunoassay. The highest concentrations were observed in cerebral vessels from guinea pigs, the lowest concentration in rabbit vessels, and intermediate levels in the feline and human cerebral vasculature. CGRP is a potent dilator of cerebral arteries in all species examined (human pial, feline middle cerebral, rabbit, guinea pig and rat basilar arteries). The concentration of CGRP eliciting half-maximal responses ranged from 0.4 nM (human pial artery) to 3 nM (rat and rabbit basilar arteries). Pretreatment of cerebral arteries with low concentrations of either substance P (0.1 nM) or neurokinin A (3 nM) attenuated slightly the CGRP-induced relaxations of guinea pig basilar arteries. Calcitonin was found to be a very weak dilator of cerebral arteries from human and guinea pig. Thus, cardiovascular nerve fibers containing CGRP appear to be present in all mammalian species (although to varying degrees) and CGRP is invariably a potent dilator of the cerebral arteries for all species.