It is now widely appreciated that G-protein-coupled cell-surface receptors can modulate distinct signal transduction pathways via coupling to different GTP-binding proteins. In the present study, we have used a transient co-expression approach to study the coupling of a single alpha 2-adrenergic receptor (alpha 2AAR) population to three different G protein subtypes (Gi, Gq, and Gs) acting on two different cellular effectors in HEK 293 cells. In all cases, the affinity of the receptor for the alpha 2A-adrenergic agonist, UK14304, is unchanged (KD approximately equal to 670 nM). However, there is a dramatic difference in the EC50 of UK14304 in eliciting inhibition of endogenous adenylyl cyclase via endogenous Gi (0.09 nM) versus activation of phospholipase C via co-transfected Gq (50 nM) or stimulation of endogenous adenylyl cyclase via co-transfected Gs (70 nM) in HEK 293 cells. These findings are consistent with the interpretations that the alpha 2AAR preferentially interacts with Gi rather than Gs or Gq. When the alpha 2AAR was mutated at Asp79, a residue highly conserved among G-protein-coupled receptors, the mutant D79N alpha 2AAR lost the ability to couple to Gq and Gs and, although it was able to couple to inhibition of cyclase via pertussis toxin-sensitive pathways (Gi), it did so with a lower potency than observed for the wild-type alpha 2AAR (EC50 = 7.2 nM). The most straightforward interpretation of these data is that the D79N mutation in the alpha 2AAR reduces the efficiency of coupling of the alpha 2AAR to all G-proteins, thus eliminating signal transduction through those pathways less efficiently coupled to the alpha 2AAR. Since the transient expression assays described permit manipulation of the structure of both the receptor or the G-protein, the present strategies could be exploited to delineate the complementary domains specifying the affinity and/or efficacy of receptor coupling to distinct GTP-binding proteins.