The cardiovascular effects of the nonselective adenosine receptor agonist 8-butylaminoadenosine (BAA) were quantified in conscious normotensive rats. The potency and intrinsic activity for the A1 and A2a receptor were determined separately. The rats received a short intravenous infusion of 100 mg/kg BAA in combination with a continuous infusion of either the A1-selective antagonist 8-cyclopentyltheophylline (CPT) (8 micrograms/min/kg), the A2a-selective antagonist 8-(3-chlorostyryl)caffeine (CSC) (32 micrograms/min/kg) or the vehicle. Heart rate (HR) and mean arterial pressure (MAP) were recorded continuously as pharmacodynamic indices for adenosine receptor activation. The MAP/HR ratio was derived as an additional cardiovascular parameter. This ratio reflects changes in total peripheral resistance on the assumption that stroke volume remains constant. During the infusion of CSC, the potency and intrinsic activity for the A1 receptor were estimated by relating the negative chronotropic effect to BAA blood concentrations. The sigmoidal curve yielded a potency value based on unbound concentrations (EC50,u) of 1.9 +/- 0.4 micrograms/ml (mean +/- S.E.; n = 5). The maximal reduction (Emax) in HR (-85 +/- 9 beats/min) was significantly smaller than the values reported for full agonists. During A1 blockade, EC50,u values of 5.5 +/- 0.8 and 6.0 +/- 0.8 micrograms/ml were observed for the A2a receptor-mediated reductions in blood pressure and MAP/HR, respectively (mean +/- SE; n = 5). The Emax values for the hypotensive effect and the reduction in MAP/HR (-55 +/- 3 beats/min and -9.7 +/- 0.6 x 10(-2) mm Hg/ beats/min, respectively) were similar to those of a full A2a receptor agonist. This study shows that BAA is a partial agonist for the adenosine A1 receptor and a full agonist for the A2a receptor.