The hypothesis was tested, through structural and functional studies, that interstitial cells of Cajal receive and can respond to direct innervation from nerves containing the vasoactive intestinal polypeptide neuromediator. The submucosal network of interstitial cells of Cajal has been postulated to provide pacemaking activity for the circular muscle and to be involved in neurotransmission from noradrenergic, noncholinergic nerves for which vasoactive intestinal polypeptide is a putative mediator. The distribution of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and substance P immunoreactive material in nerve profiles of the enteric nervous system of the canine colon was examined. In addition, electrophysiological studies were done on the interstitial cells bordering the submucosal side of the circular muscle layer after they were electrically isolated using heptanol. The vasoactive intestinal polypeptide immunoreactivity, located exclusively in nerve large granular vesicles, was found throughout the enteric nervous system (myenteric plexus, submucous plexus, and circular muscle – submucosa interface). The highest proportion (38% compared with 22–24%) of profiles of large granular vesicles with vasoactive intestinal polypeptide immunoreactivity was found in nerve profiles of the circular muscle – submucosa interface. In contrast, substance P immunoreactivity was found in nerve profiles of myenteric plexus (33% of large granular vesicles were positive) but not associated with submucosal interstitial cell nerve network. The vasoactive intestinal polypeptide hyperpolarized interstitial cells by 9 mV when electrically isolated by 1 mM heptanol and markedly reduced (about 50%) their input membrane resistance. We conclude that the distribution of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide immunoreactivity and its action are consistent with a postulated role of the interstitial cells as a major site of neurally mediated inhibition of colonic pacemaker activity.Key words: enteric nervous system, interstitial cells of Cajal, inhibitory junction potential, nonadrenergic noncholinergic nerves.