Neuronal nicotinic ACh receptors (AChRs) mediate synaptic transmission throughout the nervous system, and are regulated by cellular processes and interactions that include second messenger signaling pathways. In the case of chick ciliary ganglion neurons, activation of the cAMP- dependent signaling pathway with cAMP analogs enhances ACh sensitivity in a manner consistent with an increase in the number of functional nicotinic receptors. We have now identified vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) as a neuromodulator or “first messenger” in the cAMP- mediated pathway that regulates neuronal AChRs. Using cAMP imaging and biochemical detection assays, we find that bath application of VIP elevates intracellular cAMP in freshly isolated ciliary ganglion neurons within minutes. The VIP treatment also enhances neuronal ACh sensitivity assessed with whole-cell recording. The enhanced ACh sensitivity produced by VIP appears with a short latency, similar to that associated with the increase in cAMP, and is not additive with the enhanced ACh sensitivity produced by bath application of a cAMP analog. In contrast, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), known to regulate muscle nicotinic AChRs via a cAMP-dependent pathway, has no detectable effect on levels of either cAMP or ACh sensitivity in the neurons. The results indicate that VIP enhances the ACh sensitivity of ciliary ganglion neurons via a cAMP-dependent signaling pathway, presumably by interaction with a specific receptor. Since VIP-like immunoreactivity is present in the presynaptic nerve terminals of avian ciliary ganglia, a VIP-like peptide could modulate AChRs in vivo.