Urotensin II is the latest of a growing list of peptides exhibiting potent cardiovascular effects. It is an extremely potent vasoconstrictor in primates; its excretion is elevated in hypertensive patients thus suggesting therapeutic potential for urotensin II analogues, particularly receptor antagonists. In the present study, a number of interesting structural features pertaining to the N-terminus of urotensin II have been evaluated for binding to cloned human and rat urotensin II receptors and functional effects on rat upper thoracic aorta smooth muscle preparations. Shortened octapeptides retained full binding affinities and functional activities, did not require a free N-terminal amino group, and could tolerate an amidated C-terminus. The N-terminal Asp residue present in the octapeptides did not require a negatively charged side chain, merely one which contained a hydrogen bond acceptor CO group which could be present at a variety of positions on the side chain. The side chain could be constrained into a trans-olefinic configuration with full retention of potency, but potency was lost in the cis configuration. N-terminal aromatic amino substituted with polar groups such as OH and NO(2) also resulted in high affinity analogues. Overall, the correlation between binding affinities for the human and rat receptors was quite good. These findings could be of value in the development of more potent urotensin II receptor antagonists based on the previously identified somatostatin antagonist octapeptides which we have recently found, function as relatively weak urotensin II antagonists.