Melatonin (MT) release from the pineal gland has been used as a marker for central noradrenergic function in major depression. Norepinephrine acts at both alpha and beta adrenergic receptors on the pinealocyte membrane to mediate nocturnal MT release, but in humans the contribution of each receptor class is unclear. In order to explore the effect of alpha 2 receptors on MT release, 10 female subjects were given oral challenges, in separate placebo-controlled trials, of either 10.8 mg of yohimbine, an alpha 2 adrenergic antagonist, or clonidine, a partial alpha 2 adrenergic agonist, at doses of either 200 micrograms or 300 micrograms. Post-challenge serum melatonin was measured from 18:00 h to 22:00 h in both studies as was urinary 6-sulphatoxy-melatonin (aMT6s), the major metabolite of MT (from 18:00 h to 22:00 h, and from 22:00 h to 10:00 h). Growth hormone (GH) was also assayed following the clonidine challenge, and blood pressure, pulse rate, and side effects were monitored after both challenges. Neither yohimbine nor clonidine significantly altered nocturnal serum MT levels compared to placebo. However, there was a significant increase in urinary aMT6s between 18:00 h and 22:00 h following yohimbine ingestion. Yohimbine ingestion produced significant rises in pulse rate and the urge to urinate compared to placebo. Both doses of clonidine resulted in a significant reduction in pulse rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and significant increases in drowsiness and other measures of sedation following ingestion. Only clonidine 300 micrograms produced a significant elevation in GH release. This study highlights the limitations of oral neuroendocrine challenge studies.