Chronic administration of alpha 1-receptor antagonists is associated with loss of clinical efficacy, especially in congestive heart failure, although the mechanism is uncertain. To evaluate changes in venous alpha 1-adrenoceptor responsiveness during chronic alpha 1-adrenoceptor blockade, dose-response curves to phenylephrine and angiotensin II were constructed in 10 healthy subjects before, during, and after administration of terazosin 1 mg orally for 28 d. Terazosin initially shifted the dose-response curve of phenylephrine to the right, with a significant increase in ED50 for phenylephrine from a control value of 102 to 759 ng/min on day 1 of terazosin (P < 0.001). However, by day 28, the dose-response curve had shifted back towards baseline with an ED50 of 112 ng/min. After discontinuing terazosin, the ED50 for phenylephrine remained near the baseline value, indicating no evidence of supersensitivity to phenylephrine. There was no change in responsiveness to angiotensin II during the course of treatment with terazosin. Plasma terazosin concentrations were stable throughout the period of drug administration. The mean Kd of terazosin was estimated as 11 +/- 15 nM in the first few days of treatment. This study demonstrates that pharmacological tolerance to the alpha 1-adrenoceptor blocking action of terazosin occurs in man and may be responsible for loss in efficacy with chronic therapy.