We investigated the role of adrenergic receptors in the mechanisms of initiation of vomiting and its gastrointestinal (GI) motor correlates. The effects of clonidine, UK-14304, St-91, naphazoline, phenylephrine and isoproterenol were examined for their ability to initiate vomiting and its GI motor correlates. Only the alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonists UK-14304, clonidine, St-91 and naphazoline activated vomiting and its GI motor correlates. Tolerance of vomiting, but not its GI motor correlates, readily developed to all alpha-2 adrenergic receptor agonists but St-91. The responses to UK-14304 or clonidine were blocked by idazoxan, yohimbine, clonidine tolerance or high doses of phenoxybenzamine, but not by propranolol or prazosin. The responses to UK-14304 or clonidine were also blocked by fentanyl, 1-(1-naphthyl) piperazine, methysergide, SCH 22390 or scopolamine, but not by haloperidol, sulpiride, domperidone or naloxone. Adrenoceptor antagonists, clonidine tolerance or sympathetic blockade did not block vomiting or its GI motor correlates activated by apomorphine, CuSO4 or cholecystokinin-octapeptide. We concluded that alpha-2 adrenergic receptors of the chemoreceptive trigger zone can initiate vomiting and its GI motor correlates, but these receptors do not mediate vomiting induced by another chemoreceptive trigger zone stimulant, apomorphine, or stimulation of the GI tract using CuSO4. However, 5-hydroxytryptamine-2 serotonergic, muscarinic cholinergic and opiate receptors within the central nervous system participate in controlling emesis activated by alpha-2 adrenergic agonists. Peripheral adrenergic receptors do not mediate the GI motor correlates of vomiting.