A new compound, designated clonidine-displacing substance (CDS), has been isolated from calf brain by ion-exchange chromatography, zone electrophoresis and high-performance liquid chromatography. CDS binds specifically to alpha 2-adrenergic receptors in rat brain and human platelet membranes, as measured in direct binding experiments using [3H]clonidine and [3H]yohimbine respectively. Unlike clonidine or other alpha 2-agonists, CDS does not affect basal levels of adenylate cyclase in human platelets at the highest concentrations obtainable. The apparent molecular mass of the compound is estimated to be 500 +/- 50 Da, as determined by gel-filtration chromatography on Sephadex G-15. The new compound is thermostable, not affected by proteolytic enzymes, such as trypsin, chymotrypsin, pronase, papain and pyroglutamase, or by boiling in 0.2 M HCl for 5 min. It does not bind to alpha 1-receptors in rat brain or to beta-adrenergic receptors in turkey erythrocytes, since it is unable to displace [3H]prazosin and [125I]cyanopindolol from alpha 1 and beta-receptors respectively.