The distribution of nerves containing vasoactive intestinal polypeptide(VIP)-immunoreactive material was examined in the cephalic arteries and cranial nerves of cats using an indirect immuno fluorescence procedure on whole mounts. Perivascular VIP-immunoreactive nerves were widely distributed in arteries and arterioles supplying glands, muscles and mucous membranes of the face. Within the cerebral circulation, perivascular VIP-immunoreactive nerves were most abundant in the circle of Willis and the proximal portions of the major cerebral arteries and their proximal branches supplying the rostral brainstem and ventral areas of the cerebral cortex. Nerves containing VIP-immunoreactive material were absent from distal portions of arteries supplying the posterior brainstem, cerebellum and dorsal cerebral cortex. Cerebral perivascular VIP-immunoreactive nerves had extracerebral origins probably from VIP-immunoreactive perikarya within microganglia in the cavernous plexus and external rete. Extracerebral perivascular VIP-immunoreactive nerves probably arose from VIP-immunoreactive perikarya in microganglia associated with the tympanic plexus, chorda tympani, lingual nerve and Vidian nerve as well as from cells in the otic, sphenopalatine, submandibular and sublingual ganglia. Therefore, it seems likely that each major segment of the cephalic circulation is supplied by local VIP-immunoreactive neurons. If the VIP-immunoreactive nerves cause vasodilation, they are well placed to allow redistribution of arterial blood flow within the head. During heat stress, neurogenic vasodilation of the appropriate beds would permit efficient cooling of cerebral blood, particularly that supplying the rostral brainstem and surrounding areas of the cerebral cortex.