Role of VIP, PACAP, and related peptides in the regulation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis

Peptides. 1998;19(8):1443-67. doi: 10.1016/s0196-9781(98)00102-8.


Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) are members of a family of regulatory peptides that are widely distributed in the body and share numerous biologic actions. The two peptides display a remarkable amino acid-sequence homology, and bind to a class of G protein-coupled receptors, named PACAP/VIP receptors (PVRs), whose signaling mechanism mainly involves the activation of adenylate-cyclase and phospholipase-C cascades. A large body of evidence suggests that VIP and PACAP play a role in the control of the hypothalamo--pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, almost exclusively acting in a paracrine manner, since their blood concentration is very low. VIP and PACAP are contained in both nerve fibers and neurons of the hypothalamus, and VIP, but not PACAP, is also synthesized in the pituitary gland. Both peptides are expressed in the adrenal gland, and especially in medullary chromaffin cells. All the components of the HPA axis are provided with PVRs. VIP and PACAP enhance pituitary ACTH secretion, VIP by eliciting the hypothalamic release of CRH and potentiating its secretagogue action, and PACAP by directly stimulating pituitary corticotropes. Through this central mechanism, VIP and PACAP may increase mineralo- and glucocorticoid secretion of the adrenal cortex. VIP but not PACAP also exerts a weak direct secretagogue action on adrenocortical cells by activating both PVRs and probably a subtype of ACTH receptors. VIP and PACAP raise aldosterone production via a paracrine indirect mechanism involving the stimulation of medullary chromaffin cells to release catecholamines, which in turn enhance the secretion of zona glomerulosa cells via a beta-adrenoceptor-mediated mechanism. PACAP appears to be able to evoke a glucocorticoid response through the activation, at least in the rat, of the intramedullary CRH/ACTH system. The relevance of these effects of VIP and PACAP under basal conditions is questionable, although there are indications that endogenous VIP is involved in the maintenance of the normal growth and steroidogenic capacity of rat adrenal cortex. However, indirect evidence suggests that these peptides might play a relevant role under paraphysiological conditions (e.g., in the mediation of HPA axis responses to cold and inflammatory stresses) or may be somehow involved in the pathogenesis of Cushing disease or some case of hyperaldosteronism associated with secreting pheochromocytomas.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / physiology*
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neuropeptides / physiology*
  • Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / physiology*


  • ADCYAP1 protein, human
  • Neuropeptides
  • Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide