The pharmacological characteristics of levobetaxolol, a single active isomer of betaxolol, were determined and compared with activities of other beta-adrenoceptor antagonists. Levobetaxolol (43-fold beta1-selective) exhibited a higher affinity at cloned human beta1 (Ki = 0.76 nM) than at beta2 (Ki = 32.6 nM) receptors, while dextrobetaxolol was much weaker at both receptors. Levobetaxolol potently antagonized functional activities at cloned human beta1 and beta2 receptors, and also at guinea pig atrial beta1, tracheal beta2 and rat colonic beta3 receptors (IC50s = 33.2 nM, 2970 nM and 709 nM, respectively). Thus, levobetaxolol was 89-times beta1-selective (vs beta2). Levobetaxolol (Ki = 16.4 nM) was more potent than dextrobetaxolol (Ki = 2.97 microM) at inhibiting isoproterenol-induced cAMP production in human non-pigmented ciliary epithelial cells. Levobunolol and (l)-timolol had high affinities at beta1 and beta2 receptors but were considerably less beta1-selective than levobetaxolol. Levo-, dextro- and racemic-betaxolol exhibited little or no affinity, except at sigma sites and Ca2+-channels (IC50s > 1 microM), at 89 other receptor/ligand binding sites. Levobetaxolol exhibited a micromolar affinity for L-type Ca2+-channels. In conscious ocular hypertensive cynomolgus monkeys, levobetaxolol was more potent than dextrobetaxolol, reducing intraocular pressure by 25.9+/-3.2% at a dose of 150 microg/eye (n = 15-30). Quantitative [3H]-levobetaxolol autoradiography revealed high levels of binding to human ciliary processes, iris, choroid/retina, and ciliary muscles. In conclusion, levobetaxolol is a potent, high affinity and beta1-selective IOP-lowering beta-adrenoceptor antagonist.