Acquisition of androgen independence by prostate cancer is the key problem of prostate cancer progression. Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), a neuropeptide, may act as a survival factor for prostate cancer cells under androgen deprivation. However, the molecular mechanisms by which VIP promotes the androgen-independent growth of androgen-sensitive prostate cancer cells have not been addressed. We therefore investigated the biological effect and signal pathway of VIP in LNCaP cells, a prostate cancer cell line that requires androgens for growth. We showed that low nanomolar concentrations of VIP, acting through G(s)-protein-coupled VIP receptors, can induce LNCaP cell growth in the absence of androgen. Blockade of androgen-receptor (AR) in these cells by AR antagonist bicalutamide or by anti-AR small interfering RNA, inhibited the proliferative effect of VIP. In addition, VIP stimulated androgen-independent activation of AR with an EC(50) of 3.0 +/- 0.8 nM. We then investigated VIP-stimulated signaling events that may interact with the AR pathway in prostate cancer cells. VIP regulation of AR activation, mediated by VIP receptors, was protein kinase A (PKA)-dependent, and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) activation contributes to VIP-mediated AR activation. Furthermore, PKA-dependent Rap1 activation is required for both ERK1/2 activation and androgen-independent AR activation in LNCaP cells upon VIP stimulation. Finally, we showed that VIP-induced AR activation was also present in prostate cancer CWR22Rv1 and PC3 cells transfected with the wild-type AR. Altogether, we demonstrate that VIP acting through its G(s)-protein-coupled receptors can cause androgen-independent transactivation of AR through a PKA/Rap1/ERK1/2 pathway, thus promoting androgen-independent proliferation of androgen-sensitive prostate cancer cells.