The aim of the present study was to evaluate the distribution of pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP)-like immunoreactivity in the mouse spinal cord using an antibody against PACAP38 and to determine the behavioral profile, particularly with respect to hyperalgesia, of PACAP38 given intrathecally (i.t.) in the mouse. Immunoreactivity to PACAP38 was detected in numerous nerve fibers in the superficial layers of the dorsal horn of cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral segments and a few fibers extended into the deeper layers of the spinal cord. In addition, PACAP-like immunoreactivity were seen in the intermediolateral cell column of the thoracic and sacral segments. In behavioral studies, PACAP38 (0.05-0.5 microgram) produced a dose-dependent decrease of the tail-flick latency when given i.t. in the mouse. At higher doses (1-10 micrograms), PACAP38 given i.t. elicited biting and scratching behaviors lasting 10-20 min after the injection. PACAP at high doses (1-10 micrograms) also produced licking at tail, paw and penis and intense grooming behaviors immediately after the i.t. injection. Similar to substance P, these behaviors produced by PACAP can be considered as pain-like syndrome. These findings suggest that PACAP may be a sensory neurotransmitter involved in nociceptive signalling in the mouse spinal cord.