Receptors for vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) in turkey cerebral cortex were characterized using two approaches: (1) in vitro radioreceptor binding of [125I]-VIP, and (2) effects of peptides from the PACAP/VIP/secretin family on cyclic AMP formation. The binding of [125I]-VIP to turkey cortical membranes was rapid, stable, and reversible. Saturation analysis resulted in a linear Scatchard plot, suggesting binding to a single class of high affinity receptor binding sites with a Kd of 0.70 nM and a Bmax of 52 fmol/mg protein. Various peptides displaced the specific binding of 0.12 nM [125I]-VIP to turkey cerebral cortical membranes in a concentration-dependent manner. The relative rank order of potency of the tested peptides to inhibit [125I]-VIP binding to turkey cerebrum was: PACAP38 approximately PACAP27 approximately chicken VIP approximately mammalian VIP >>> PHI >> secretin, chicken VIP16-28 (inactive). About 65% of specific [125I]-VIP binding sites in turkey cerebral cortex was sensitive to Gpp(NH)p, a nonhydrolysable analogue of GTP. PACAP38, PACAP27, chicken VIP and, to a lesser extent, mammalian VIP potently stimulated cyclic AMP formation in turkey cerebral cortical slices in a concentration-dependent manner, displaying EC50 values of 8.7 nM (PACAP38), 21.3 nM (PACAP27), 67.4 nM (chicken VIP), and 202 nM (mammalian VIP). On the other hand, PHI and secretin very weakly affected the nucleotide production. The obtained results indicate that cerebral cortex of turkey contains VPAC type receptors that are positively linked to cyclic AMP-generating system and are labeled with [125I]-VIP.