Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) is a widely distributed neurotransmitter whose dilatory effects on vascular smooth muscle are believed to be mediated via specific receptors. To determine the possible role of VIP in regulating specific vascular beds, we examined the relationship between arterial wall VIP content as determined by radioimmunoassay and VIP receptors mapped by autoradiography. Analysis of arteries from 12 adult New Zealand rabbits showed that VIP receptors were consistently located in the wall of all muscular arteries, and that the 125I-VIP grain density correlated with VIP content. 125I-VIP binding in the mesenteric, renal, and iliac arteries was abundant and their VIP content was 192 ± 56, 51 ± 5, and 74 ± 23 fmole/mg protein, respectively. 125I-VIP binding to the thoracic aorta was indistinguishable from nonspecific binding, its VIP content being 15 ± 2 fmole/mg protein. The abundance of VIP receptors and the high VIP levels associated with the mesenteric, renal, and iliac arteries suggest that VIP is a potential regulator of flow to the vascular beds supplied by these arteries. In contrast, the much lower density of receptors in the extracranial carotid, which is also a muscular artery, suggests that, in rabbits, control of carotid vasomotion may be less dependent on VIP innervation. Furthermore, these results suggest that VIP receptors and VIP-containing neurons are not uniformly distributed in the arterial vasculature and that VIP may have selective vasodilatory effects.
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