Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a potent vasodilating peptide, is present in primary afferent neurons of the gastric mucosa. However, its functional role in the stomach is not well established. The present study was undertaken to elucidate the involvement of gastric CGRP in the mechanism of protection against mucosal damage. Newborn Wistar rats were made CGRP-deficient by intraperitoneal injection of a sensory neurotoxin, capsaicin. All the experiments were performed 2.5 months after birth. The formation of mucosal lesions by administration of indomethacin to CGRP-deficient rats was significantly enhanced in comparison with that in normal rats. Intragastric administration of capsaicin significantly reduced the indomethacin-induced gastric mucosal lesions in normal rats. Pretreatment with a CGRP antagonist abolished the protective action of intragastric capsaicin against damaging agents. In isolated perfused stomach from normal rats, acute arterial infusion of capsaicin significantly reduced the perfusion pressure of the left gastric artery, with a simultaneous increase in CGRP and somatostatin secretion. The reduction of perfusion pressure and the increase of somatostatin secretion were inhibited by concomitant administration of a CGRP antagonist. In contrast, capsaicin infusion had no effect in CGRP-deficient rats. These results suggest that CGRP in the stomach plays a pivotal role in protection against gastric mucosal damage by indomethacin, possibly through an increase in gastric blood flow and somatostatin secretion.