The effects of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) were assessed on astroglia cultured from rat CNS. In these cultures VIP (500 nM) promoted the hydrolysis of [3H]glycogen newly synthesized from [3H]glucose. This effect on [3H]glycogen levels was also observed with the structurally related peptide PHI-27 and with other substances which had been demonstrated to promote glycogenolysis in rodent CNS in vitro such as: norepinephrine (NE), serotonin, histamine, adenosine, K+ and dibutyryl cyclic-AMP (dbcAMP). Furthermore, VIP (500 nM) and PHI 27 (500 nM), when applied to astroglial cultures in serum-free medium, displayed marked effects on the morphological appearance of the cell population: they converted the flat cells present in the cultures into cells with typical astrocytic morphology. As previously reported, this effect on the cellular morphology of the cultures was also observed, under identical experimental conditions, after NE and dbcAMP application. These studies demonstrate that cultured rat neonatal astroglia possess receptors for VIP, and suggest that a cyclic AMP accumulation may mediate both the metabolic and morphologic components of this response.