Bovine thymic peptide extract (1-100 micrograms/ml) is shown to completely inhibit the binding of [125I]VIP to rat blood mononuclear cells, lymphoid cells of spleen, and liver plasma membranes. In the three models, the bovine thymic peptide extract inhibits [125I]VIP binding with a potency that is 4000-7000 times lower than that of the native VIP, on a weight basis. In rat liver plasma membranes, the bovine thymic peptide extract stimulates adenylate cyclase with a maximal efficiency that is similar to that of VIP. At maximal doses, VIP and thymic peptide extract do not exert an additive effect on adenylate cyclase, suggesting that the activation of the enzyme by the bovine thymic peptide extract occurs through VIP receptors. Finally, no VIP-like immunoreactivity was detected in the thymic peptide extract using an antiserum raised against mammalian VIP. All these data suggest the presence in the bovine thymic peptide extract of a new substance which behaves as a VIP agonist in rat.