Two alpha 1-adrenoceptor subtypes (alpha 1A and alpha 1B) have been distinguished by competitive antagonists and the alkylating agent chloroethylclonidine. The chloroethylclonidine-insensitive subtype (alpha 1A) has been suggested to selectively activate Ca2+ influx through dihydropyridine-sensitive channels in smooth muscle. We compared the effects of chloroethylclonidine and nifedipine on contractile responses to norepinephrine (NE) in rat blood vessels. Pretreatment with chloroethylclonidine caused a large shift to the right and decrease in maximum for NE-induced contractions of rat aorta, however, nifedipine had no effect in this tissue. Chloroethylclonidine had no effect on NE-induced contractions of rat renal arteries, which were almost completely abolished by nifedipine. Both chloroethylclonidine and nifedipine partially attenuated NE-induced contractions in rat mesenteric artery and portal vein. Addition of nifedipine abolished residual contractions remaining after chloroethylclonidine pretreatment in all four types of vessels. The pA2 for the competitive antagonist WB 4101 was highest in renal artery and lowest in aorta. These results suggest that the sensitivity of rat blood vessels to chloroethylclonidine is inversely related to their sensitivity to nifedipine, and support the existence of two alpha 1-adrenoceptor subtypes in rat blood vessels. Rat aorta appears to contain primarily alpha 1B receptors, renal artery primarily alpha 1A, and mesenteric artery and portal vein mixtures alpha 1A of and alpha 1B.