Clonidine, an antihypertensive drug, binds to alpha2-adrenergic and imidazoline receptors. The endogenous ligand for imidazoline receptors may be a clonidine-displacing substance, a small molecule isolated from bovine brain. This clonidine-displacing substance was purified and determined by mass spectroscopy to be agmatine (decarboxylated arginine), heretofore not detected in brain. Agmatine binds to alpha2-adrenergic and imidazoline receptors and stimulates release of catecholamines from adrenal chromaffin cells. Its biosynthetic enzyme, arginine decarboxylase, is present in brain. Agmatine, locally synthesized, is an endogenous agonist at imidazoline receptors, a noncatecholamine ligand at alpha2-adrenergic receptors and may act as a neurotransmitter.