Hypotension and flushing are occasionally observed in patients with pancreatic cholera syndrome. Similar effects are produced when vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) is administered to healthy subjects. To characterize further these responses, serial measurements of heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac output and forearm blood flow were made in 6 healthy subjects during constant VIP infusion (400 pmol/kg/hr for 100 minutes). VIP infusion caused sustained vasodilatation and decreased total peripheral resistance and mean arterial pressure by 30 and 12%, respectively. Forearm resistance decreased by 65%. The effects on cardiac output and stroke volume were biphasic. During the early phase of VIP infusion (0 to 70 minutes), heart rate and cardiac output increased with only minor changes in stroke volume. Later (71 to 100 minutes) the tachycardia persisted, but cardiac output decreased toward control levels due to decreased stroke volume. Echocardiograms during the infusion demonstrated increased left ventricular contractility as defined by the relation between end-systolic wall stress and shortening fraction. These data document potent vasodilatory and inotropic actions of VIP. It is likely that intravascular volume losses from increased intestinal secretion account for the decreased stroke volume seen late in the VIP infusion period and immediately thereafter. The tachycardia appears to be an appropriate compensatory mechanism to maintain blood pressure in the presence of vasodilatation and loss of intervascular volume. These observations provide an explanation for the cardiovascular findings in patients with sudden release of VIP from tumors.