1. P1-purinoceptors mediating relaxation of the rat duodenum longitudinal muscle and contraction of the rat duodenum muscularis mucosae were characterized by the use of adenosine and its analogues, 5'-N-ethylcarboxamidoadenosine (NECA), N6-cyclopentyl-adenosine (CPA), N6-(phenylisopropyl)adenosine (R-PIA), 2-chloroadenosine (2-CADO) and 2-p-((carboxyethyl)phenethylamino)-5'-carboxamidoadenosine (CGS21680), as well as the P1-purinoceptor antagonist 8-phenyltheophylline (8-PT) and the A1-selective antagonist, 1,3-dipropyl-8-cyclopentylxanthine (DPCPX). 2. In the rat duodenum longitudinal muscle, the order of potency of the adenosine agonists was CPA > NECA > adenosine > CGS21680. DPCPX antagonized responses to CPA and NECA at a concentration of 1 nM suggesting that they are acting at A1 receptors. A Schild plot versus CPA gave a slope near to unity (slope = 0.955) and a pA2 of 9.8 confirming that CPA was acting via A1 receptors. Schild analysis for DPCPX versus NECA, however, gave a slope of 0.674 suggesting that NECA was acting on both A1 and A2 receptors. CGS21680, a selective A2a agonist, was much less potent than adenosine suggesting that the A2 receptors are of the A2b subtype. 3. In the rat duodenum muscularis mucosae, the order of potency of the adenosine agonists was NECA > or = R-PIA = CPA > 2-CADO > adenosine, and DPCPX antagonized responses to CPA and NECA at a concentration of 1 microM. CGS21680, at a concentration of 10 microM, had no effect on this tissue. This suggests the presence of A2 receptors in this tissue and that they are of the A2b subtype. 4. These results are in agreement with previous studies in the whole duodenum showing the presence of A1 and A2b receptors causing relaxation, and this shows that the longitudinal muscle dominates the response of the whole tissue. In addition, a contractile A2b receptor has been revealed on the muscularis mucosae, the first time this subtype has been reported to elicit an excitatory response in a smooth muscle preparation.