Pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) is a novel vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP)-like peptide, which is present in neuronal elements of several peripheral organs, and thus a putative neurotransmitter/modulator. In the present study, the expression of PACAP in two parasympathetic ganglia (otic, sphenopalatine) and one mixed parasympathetic/sensory ganglion (jugular-nodose) in rat was characterized by use of in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry and compared to that of VIP and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). PACAP and VIP were expressed in virtually all nerve cell bodies in the otic and sphenopalatine ganglia; PACAP and VIP were also expressed in subpopulations of nerve cell bodies in the jugular-nodose ganglion. CGRP was expressed in numerous nerve cell bodies in the jugular-nodose ganglion and in a few, scattered, nerve cell bodies in the sphenopalatine ganglion. In the otic and sphenopalatine ganglia, PACAP- and VIP-like immunoreactivities were frequently co-localized; in the jugular-nodose ganglion, PACAP-like immunoreactivity was frequently co-localized with CGRP-like immunoreactivity in presumably sensory neurons and to a lesser extent with VIP in parasympathetic neurons. Thus, PACAP is synthesized and stored in autonomic parasympathetic neurons as well as in vagal sensory neurons, which provides an anatomical basis for the diverse effects of PACAP previously described.