1. The present study attempted to characterize pharmacologically the subtypes of alpha-adrenoceptors mediating contractions in human umbilical vein (HUV). 2. HUV rings were mounted in isolated organ baths and cumulative concentration-response curves were constructed for the alpha-adrenoceptor agonists phenylephrine and adrenaline. Adrenaline was more potent than phenylephrine (pD2=7.29 and 6.04 respectively). 3. Isoproterenol exhibited no agonism on KCl pre-contracted HUV rings. Propranolol (1 microM) and rauwolscine (0.1 microM) did not affect the concentration-response curves to adrenaline. These results demonstrate the lack of involvement of functional beta-or alpha2-adrenoceptors in adrenaline-induced vasoconstriction. 4. The non subtype selective alpha1-adrenoceptor antagonist prazosin was evaluated on phenylephrine and adrenaline concentration-response curves. The effects of the competitive alpha1A and alpha1D-adrenoceptor antagonists, 5-methyl urapidil and BMY 7378 and the irreversible alpha1B selective compound chloroethylclonidine (CEC) were also evaluated on adrenaline concentration-response curves. 5. The potencies of prazosin against responses mediated by adrenaline (pA2= 10.87) and phenylephrine (pA2= 10.70) indicate the involvement of prazosin-sensitive functional alpha1-adrenoceptor subtype in vasoconstriction of the HUV. 6. The potencies of 5-methyl urapidil (pA2 = 6.70) and BMY 7378 (pA2= 7.34) were not consistent with the activation of an alpha1A- or alpha1D-adrenoceptor population. 7. Exposure to a relatively low CEC concentration (3 microM) abolished the maximum response to adrenaline suggesting that this response was mediated by an alpha1B-adrenoceptor subtype. 8. We conclude that HUV express a prazosin-sensitive functional alpha1-adrenoceptor resembling the alpha1B-subtype according with the low pA2 values for both 5-methyl urapidil and BMY 7378 and the high sensitivity to CEC.