The role of beta 3-adrenoceptors in human colonic circular smooth muscle was assessed in vitro by use of the beta 3-selective antagonist SR 59230A. Isoprenaline, in the presence of the selective beta-adrenoceptor antagonists CGP 20712A (beta 1) and ICI 118551 (beta 2), both at 0.1 microM, concentration-dependently relaxed the preparation (pEC50 = 5.22). This effect was potently and competitively antagonized by SR 59230A with a pA2 of 8.31, while its R,R enantiomer SR 59483A gave an apparent pKB of 6.21. Relaxation was likewise produced by CGP 12177A (pEC50 = 6.05), but not by BRL 37344. Although only one of these beta 3-selective agonists was effective, the remarkably high potency of SR 59230A as a stereospecific antagonist of non-beta 1 non-beta 2 relaxation of human colonic muscle by isoprenaline provides strong functional evidence of beta 3-adrenoceptors in that tissue.