We previously described a model of intestinal hypersensitivity in which isolated gut segments from sensitized rats demonstrated a rapid epithelial secretory response to luminal antigen that was mediated by mucosal mast cells and capsaicin-sensitive nerves. In this study, we examined the ability of the inhibitory neuropeptide, neuropeptide Y (NPY), to diminish the antigen-induced secretory response. Rats were sensitized to egg albumin (EA), and 12-14 days later, jejunal tissue was excised and mounted in Ussing chambers. NPY inhibited the short-circuit current (Isc) increase and Cl- secretion evoked by addition of EA to the luminal side of the tissue; neural blockade with tetrodotoxin (TTX) had a similar inhibitory effect. In contrast, NPY was much less effective, and TTX was completely ineffective, on the response to serosal antigen. Additional experiments examined the cell target for NPY action. NPY and TTX almost abolished the Isc response to electrical transmural stimulation of enteric nerves, suggesting a possible neural site of action. In addition, NPY significantly reduced baseline Isc; this inhibition involved both TTX-dependent and TTX-independent components. Because nerves were previously shown to facilitate antigen uptake and substance P was implicated in the response to only luminal antigen, we postulated that NPY was inhibiting nerves that facilitate antigen transport from the lumen to effector cells in the lamina propria. We therefore examined the effect of exogenous substance P added after NPY inhibition. Substance P restored the luminal antigen-induced secretory response to pretreatment values. We conclude that the neuropeptides play a significant role in immunophysiology by acting at neural and epithelial sites in the intestinal mucosa.