Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) from rat aorta possess specific receptors for a novel potent vasorelaxant peptide, adrenomedullin (AM). To elucidate its receptor coupling to guanine nucleotide-binding stimulatory protein and the structural requirement of the AM molecule to its vascular receptors, we have studied the effects of guanine nucleotides on [125I]human (h) AM binding and adenylate cyclase activity in cultured rat VSMC, and the effects of various synthetic hAM analogs on [125I]hAM binding and the cAMP response. Guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) dose dependently inhibited [125I]hAM binding to rat VSMC membranes. hAM stimulated adenylate cyclase activity, and its effect was additive with GTP. hAM-induced cAMP formation was abrogated by pretreatment with cholera toxin, but not by that with pertussis toxin. Intact hAM-(1-52)-NH2 and N-terminal truncated derivatives [hAM-(13-52)-NH2, hAM-(16-52)-NH2] almost equally inhibited [125I]hAM binding and stimulated cAMP formation, whereas removal of C-terminal Tyr52 residue [hAM-(1-51)-NH2] remarkably decreased receptor-binding activity and the cAMP response. The effects of hAM-(1-52)-OH, hAM-(1-51)-OH, and a linear hAM analog ([carbamoylmethyl-Cys16,21]hAM-NH2) were far less potent on receptor binding and the cAMP response than that of hAM-(1-52)-NH2. The C-terminal fragment [hAM-(33-52)-NH2] and the N-terminal fragment [hAM-(1-10)-OH] had neither receptor-binding nor adenylate cyclase activity. hAM-(22-52)-NH2 had no agonistic effect, but showed an antagonistic effect on the hAM-induced cAMP response. These data suggest that vascular AM receptors are functionally coupled to adenylate cyclase via guanine nucleotide-binding stimulatory protein. Studies of the structure-activity relationship of hAM revealed that the cyclic structure formed by the disulfide bridge and amidation of the C-terminal residue of the AM molecule are critical for receptor binding and subsequent cAMP generation and suggest that the C-terminal fragment hAM-(22-52)-NH2 may be an antagonist for vascular AM receptors.