Orexins A and B are hypothalamic peptides, that act through two receptor subtypes, called OX1-R and OX2-R. OX1-R selectively binds orexin A, whereas OX2-R is nonselective for both orexins. High levels of OX1-R mRNA and low levels of OX2-R mRNA have been previously detected in the human adrenal cortex and medulla. Here we demonstrated by RT-PCR the expression of the OX2-R, but not the OX1-R, gene in 10 benign secreting pheochromocytomas. Both orexins A and B stimulated catecholamine secretion from pheochromocytoma slices; the maximal effective concentration was 10(-8) mol/liter. Orexins A and B (10(-8) mol/liter) increased IP3, but not cAMP production, by tumor slices, and the effect was blocked by the PLC inhibitor U-73122. The catecholamine response to 10(-8) mol/liter orexins A and B was abolished by either U-73122 or the PKC antagonist calphostin C and was unaffected by the adenylate cyclase inhibitor SQ-22536 and the PKA inhibitor H-89. Collectively, these findings suggest that orexins stimulate catecholamine secretion from human pheochromocytomas, acting through OX2-R coupled to the PLC-PKC signaling pathway.