The multiple clinical actions of clonidine have historically been linked to the same receptor (alpha 2-adrenoceptor) due to the belief that clonidine was a selective alpha 2-agonist. However, it is now recognized that clonidine binds with a similar affinity to alpha 2-adrenoceptors and to non-adrenergic imidazoline receptors. These two pharmacological targets (and subtypes of each alpha 2 and imidazoline receptors) provide the basis for a possible separation of cardiovascular and other targeted effects, such as analgesia. Consequently, the design of selective alpha 2-adrenoceptor (subtype) agonists as analgesics devoid of the cardiovascular effects associated with clonidine appears to be a rational approach to novel therapeutic agents. The present review focuses on alpha 2-adrenoceptor subtype/imidazoline diversity as a target for analgesic (and other CNS) drug discovery.