The two forms of monoamine oxidase, monoamine oxidase A and monoamine oxidase B, have been associated with imidazoline-binding sites (type 2). Imidazoline ligands saturate the imidazoline-binding sites at nanomolar concentrations, but inhibit monoamine oxidase activity only at micromolar concentrations, suggesting two different binding sites [Ozaita A, Olmos G, Boronat MA, Lizcano JM, Unzeta M & García-Sevilla JA (1997) Br J Pharmacol121, 901-912]. When purified human monoamine oxidase A was used to examine the interaction with the active site, inhibition by guanabenz, 2-(2-benzofuranyl)-2-imidazoline and idazoxan was competitive with kynuramine as substrate, giving K(i) values of 3 microM, 26 microM and 125 microM, respectively. Titration of monoamine oxidase A with imidazoline ligands induced spectral changes that were used to measure the binding affinities for guanabenz (19.3 +/- 3.9 microM) and 2-(2-benzofuranyl)-2-imidazoline (49 +/- 8 microM). Only one type of binding site was detected. Agmatine, a putative endogenous ligand for some imidazoline sites, reduced monoamine oxidase A under anaerobic conditions, indicating that it binds close to the flavin in the active site. Flexible docking studies revealed multiple orientations within the large active site, including orientations close to the flavin that would allow oxidation of agmatine.