Dopamine (DA) is a putative neurotransmitter in a population of interneurons in the mammalian retina that are activated by photic stimulation. Pharmacological studies were conducted to determine if alpha 2-adrenergic receptors influence the activity of retinal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), a biochemical indicator of changes in the activity of the DA-containing neurons. TH activity was low in dark-adapted retinas and high in light-exposed retinas. Systemic administration of the alpha 2-adrenoceptor antagonists, yohimbine and piperoxane, to dark-adapted rats significantly stimulated TH activity. This effect was apparently mediated locally within the retina because the response could also be elicited by direct injection of yohimbine into the vitreous. The dose-response relationships for the effects of alpha 2-adrenoceptor antagonists on retinal TH activity were similar to those for the effects on brain noradrenergic neurons, where alpha 2-adrenoceptors have been shown to be involved in the autoregulation of neuronal activity. Clonidine, an alpha 2-adrenoceptor agonist, had no effect when administered alone to dark-adapted rats, but it attenuated the stimulatory effect of yohimbine. In contrast, clonidine decreased TH activity of light-exposed retinas, an effect that was reversed by yohimbine. These observations suggest that alpha 2-adrenoceptors influence the activity of retinal DA-containing neurons.