Bioactive peptides are a group of diverse intercellular signalling molecules. Almost half a century of research on this topic has resulted in an enormous amount of data. In this essay, a general perspective to interpret all these data will be given. In classical endocrinology, neuropeptides were thought of as simple signalling molecules that each elicit one response. However, the fact that the total bioactive peptide signal is far from simple puts this view under pressure. Cells and tissues express many different bioactive peptides and they are also able to respond to many different bioactive peptides, indicating that multiple receptors and signal transduction pathways are present in a single cell. Therefore, the authors suggest that the bioactive peptide signalling system should be regarded in the context of network and systems biology. Bioactive peptides can best be viewed as an extension of the protein interaction network that allows regulating and fine-tuning the metabolism of the different cells and tissues in the body. The cell thus responds to the 'peptidome' instead of to a single peptide. The intracellular part of this signalling network consists of the various signalling transduction cascades. Recently, new systems biology approaches have emerged for the modelling of cell signalling. The network and systems biology approach is also able to shed new light on the evolution of intercellular signalling.