ABSTRACT: I1 imidazoline receptors (I1R) were defined as receptors insensitive to catecholamines and highly sensitive to [3H]clonidine and analogs. By contrast, the I2R subtype is more sensitive to [3H]idazoxan. [3H]clonidine and [3H]idazoxan imidazoline specific binding sites (IBS) have been detected in crude human membranes. Pharmacologic characterization by binding assays clearly differentiates IBS from α2-adrenoceptors, whereas differences between [3H]clonidine and [3H]idazoxan IBS are less clear in crude preparations. In fact, only moderate affinity for [3H]clonidine was detectable in such preparations. However, purification procedures allowed detection of high affinity [3H]clonidine IBS in the human brain, corresponding to the I1R. Difficulties in the characterization of the I1R in crude membranes are due to multiple factors including heterogeneity of IBS, their low Bmax value, the existence of allosteric modulation, and possibly the presence of natural binding inhibitors. Immunologic studies with specific anti-idiotypic antibodies revealed a 43-kD protein as the best candidate for I1R as binding activity coincides with immunodetection. No cross-reaction was found with anti-monoamine oxidase (MAO) A/B antibodies and the 43-kD protein, ruling out the possibility of this protein being an MAO-associated I2R. Neither anti-α2A- nor anti-α2B-specific antibodies were able to immunodetect the 43-kD protein in crude membrane preparations or in purified fractions. These results and further biochemical characterization (pHi, N-glycosylation) of the 43-kD protein definitely assessed that human brain I1R and α2-adrenoceptors clearly differ physically. However, coexpression of I1R and α2-adrenoceptors in synaptic plasma membranes of the bovine brainstem reinforce the possibility of a functional relationship between the two types of receptor.