The distribution of nerves containing galanin-immunoreactive (GAL-IR) material was compared to the distribution of neurons containing vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) immunoreactivity in the canine gastrointestinal tract. The actions of intra-arterially administered galanin and VIP on motility in the gastric antrum and corpus and the intestines were also studied. All sphincter muscles contained galanin- and VIP-immunoreactive nerve profiles. VIP-immunoreactive nerve profiles were present in all layers of the stomach, small intestine, and colon. GAL-IR nerve somata were common in the submucous plexus of ileum and colon and in the myenteric plexus of the terminal antrum, as were nerve processes in various layers. In the small intestine, galanin inhibited contractile responses to field stimulation of intrinsic nerves and also reduced the contractions after nerve blockade with tetrodotoxin (TTX). VIP often enhanced field-stimulated contractions at low doses but inhibited these and the contractions after TTX at higher doses. In the stomach and colon, both peptides inhibited responses to field stimulation; whether these effects were due to actions on smooth muscle was not tested. The distribution and actions of galanin in gut are consistent with the hypothesis that it acts at smooth muscle sites and possibly at prejunctional sites.