The role of vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) in the development of form deprivation myopia (FDM) was examined. Daily intravitreal injection of porcine VIP reduced, but did not eliminate FDM at a maximal daily dose of 1 x 10(-5) mol/injection. A VIP analogue reported to be relatively hydrolysis-resistant in vivo, had no effect on development of FDM at any dose tested. Two VIP antagonists completely abolished FDM. The one reported to be selective for central nervous system VIP receptors was 100 times more potent than one reported to be selective for peripheral nervous system receptors (ED50 = 2 x 10(-10) and 2 x 10(-8) mol/injection respectively). By immunofluorescence using antiserum to porcine VIP, VIP-like immunoreactivity was localized to a subset of amacrine cells (AC) and in three parallel layers in the inner plexiform layer (IPL) (10%, 40% and 70% of IPL thickness from the AC layer). Immunoreactive nerve fibres were also seen in the choroid, the ciliary body and the iris. These results suggest that VIP may play a role in both normal development of the refractive properties of the eye, and in the development of FDM.