The neuropeptide vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) has been reported previously to inhibit cell proliferation and interleukin (IL)-2 production in mitogen-stimulated T lymphocytes. In physiological conditions, T lymphocytes are specifically activated by antigen-binding through the T cell receptor (TCR). Here we report on the effect of VIP and related peptides on IL-2 and IL-4 production of murine T lymphocytes stimulated through the TCR. VIP inhibited IL-2 and IL-4 production (both at the level of protein concentration and biological activity) by unfractionated spleen cells or purified CD4+ T cells stimulated with either anti-CD3 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) or with anti-CD3 mAbs plus phorbol esters. The inhibition was dose-dependent, and specific, since structurally related peptides such as secretin and glucagon had little or no inhibitory activity. VIP inhibited IL-2 and IL-4 production through different molecular mechanisms. IL-2 production was regulated at a transcriptional level through the downregulation of IL-2 mRNA, whereas the production of IL-4 was modulated at a posttranscriptional level.