Prostaglandin (PG) synthesis elicited by adrenergic transmitter in the vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) of rabbit aorta is primarily mediated through activation of alpha-2C and alpha-1A adrenergic receptors (ARs). We have now investigated and compared the signal transduction mechanisms involved in alpha-2C and alpha-1A AR-stimulated prostacyclin (PGI2) production, measured as 6-keto-PGF1 alpha, in vascular smooth muscle cells. Norepinephrine, methoxamine (an alpha-1 AR agonist) and UK-14304 (an alpha-2 AR agonist) enhanced 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production. UK-14304 and norepinephrine (in the presence of propranolol), but not methoxamine, reduced basal adenosine 2':3'-cyclic monophosphate (cyclic AMP) as well as forskolin- and isoproterenol-stimulated cyclic AMP accumulation. Forskolin and isoproterenol did not alter basal 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production and alpha AR agonist-induced 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production. Alpha-2C and alpha-1A AR-stimulated 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production was independent of cyclic AMP levels in vascular smooth muscle cells. Both alpha-2C and alpha-1A AR-stimulated 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production required extracellular Ca++. Pertussis toxin prevented inhibition of cyclic AMP accumulation and reduced 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production in response to AR agonists. Guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) potentiated 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production induced by norepinephrine and UK-14304 but not by methoxamine, whereas at a higher Mg++ concentration (4 mM), guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) potentiated 6-keto-PGF1 alpha production by all three agonists. In contrast, the effect of UK-14304 on cyclic AMP was prevented in the presence of 4 mM Mg++. These data suggest that the pertussis toxin-sensitive G protein(s) mediated the stimulation of PG synthesis by alpha-1A and alpha-2C AR activation and the decrease in cyclic AMP accumulation by alpha-2C AR activation.