Pituitary adenylate-cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) stimulates release of several anterior pituitary hormones by interacting with PACAP receptors on pituitary cells. To learn more about the distribution and possible regulatory roles of PACAP and its receptors in human pituitary adenomas, we investigated the expression of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and PACAP binding sites using receptor autoradiography, PACAP and PACAP/VIP receptor (PVR) mRNAs by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), conventional in situ hybridization, and catalyzed reporter deposition in situ hybridization (CARD-ISH) analyses. PACAP mRNA was expressed in normal human hypothalamus, which was used as a positive control, but not in pituitary adenomas. Receptor autoradiography showed PACAP types I and II binding sites in all groups of pituitary adenomas, except prolactinomas. The highest levels were present in gonadotroph and null cell adenomas. PVR-2 mRNA was expressed in normal pituitaries and in all groups of pituitary adenomas by RT-PCR, whereas PVR-1 and -3 mRNAs were expressed in all groups of pituitary adenomas, except for most prolactinomas. Conventional in situ hybridization studies with digoxigenin-labeled probes demonstrated weak staining for PVR-1, -2, and -3 mRNAs in most tissues. The CARD-ISH technique, which increased the sensitivity of the in situ hybridization method, also revealed PVR-2 mRNA expression in all adenomas, whereas PVR-1 and -3 mRNAs were detected in nearly all adenomas except for prolactinomas. The presence of PACAP mRNA in the hypothalamus, but not in normal anterior pituitary or in pituitary adenomas, and the differential expression of PVRs in adenomas indicate a selective regulatory endocrine and paracrine role of PACAP in normal and neoplastic anterior pituitary cells.