Rat adrenal chromaffin cells were invested by a dense network of nerve fibers immunoreactive to pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide-38 (PACAP-IR). Immunohistochemical studies demonstrated the presence of PACAP-IR in nodose and dorsal root ganglion cells, but not in neurons of the intermediolateral cell column and other autonomic nuclei of the thoracic and upper lumbar spinal cord. Somata of the T7 to T12 paravertebral ganglia were PACAP-negative. A few lightly labeled neurons were occasionally noted in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus. Injection of the retrograde tracer Fluorogold into the left adrenal medulla 3 days prior to sacrifice resulted in the labeling of a population of neurons in the ipsilateral spinal cord intermediolateral cell column (T1 to L1), ipsilateral and contralateral nodose ganglia and ipsilateral dorsal root ganglia from T7 to T10 inclusive. A small number of lightly labeled somata was occasionally noted in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus. Combined retrograde tracing and PACAP immunohistochemistry showed that a population of Fluorogold-containing nodose and dorsal root ganglion cells were also PACAP-positive. Pre-treatment of the rats with capsaicin caused a marked reduction of the PACAP-IR in the adrenal gland as well as in the superficial layers of the dorsal horn and caudal spinal trigeminal nucleus. These findings, in conjunction with the apparent absence of PACAP-IR in spinal sympathetic preganglionic neurons, sympathetic postganglionic neurons, and dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus, raise the possibility that PACAP-IR fibers observed in the adrenal medulla are primarily sensory in origin. As a corollary, catecholamine secretion from chromaffin cells may be modulated by the peptidergic sensory afferents in addition to the cholinergic sympathetic preganglionic nerve fibers.