In the presence of RS-15385-197 to preclude binding to alpha 2-adrenoceptors, [3H]p-aminoclonidine labelled a low affinity high capacity site, (Kd = 127.6 +/- 19.7 nM, Bmax 978 +/- 172 fmol/mg protein) whereas [3H]idazoxan labelled a high affinity low capacity site (Kd = 1.66 +/- 0.28 nM, Bmax 45.3 +/- 11.4 fmol/mg protein). Clonidine and p-aminoclonidine showed moderate affinity for the site labelled by [3H]p-aminoclonidine, but low affinity for the site labelled by [3H]idazoxan, whereas idazoxan showed high affinity for [3H]idazoxan and low affinity for [3H]p-aminoclonidine binding. Naphazoline inhibited [3H]idazoxan in a biphasic manner suggesting that [3H]idazoxan may label an heterogeneous population of imidazoline sites. GTP inhibited [3H]idazoxan but not [3H]p-aminoclonidine binding. These results suggest that [3H]idazoxan labelled imidazoline I2 binding sites, whereas [3H]p-aminoclonidine labelled a novel subtype which showed marked differences to the imidazoline I1 binding site reported in bovine and human brainstem.