The purified bovine brain A1-adenosine receptor has previously been shown to discriminate among closely related G protein alpha-subunits. To obtain analogous information for the human receptor, the cDNA coding for the human A1-adenosine receptor was inserted into a plasmid placing the synthesis of the receptor protein under the control of the MalE promoter. Following induction by maltose, active receptor accumulated in Escherichia coli membranes. Binding of the antagonist 8-[3H]cyclopentyl-1,3-dipropylxanthine to E. coli membranes (KD approximately 2 nM, Bmax approximately 0.2-0.4 pmol/mg) showed the appropriate pharmacological profile. Incubation of E. coli membranes with purified Go,i-reconstituted guanine nucleotide-sensitive high affinity binding of the agonist (-)[125I] N6-3-(iodo-4-hydroxyphenylisopropyl)adenosine to the receptor (KD approximately 1 nM). In the presence of purified beta gamma-subunit, the recombinant receptor interacted equally well with the recombinant G protein alpha-subunits Gi alpha-1, Gi alpha-2, Gi alpha-3; G(o) alpha displayed a lower affinity for the receptor while Gs alpha was inactive. Parallel experiments were carried out in bovine and human brain membranes pretreated with N-ethylmaleimide to inactivate the endogenous G(o)/Gi proteins; Gi alpha-3 was most potent in reconstituting 125I-HPIA binding to bovine membranes, while Gi alpha-1, Gi alpha-2, and G(o) alpha displayed similar affinities. However, in human membranes, Gi alpha-1, Gi alpha-2, and Gi alpha-3, were equipotent and high concentrations of G(o) alpha were required to promote 125I-HPIA binding. These observations show (i) that functional human A1-adenosine receptors were synthesized in E. coli; (ii) that the pattern of G protein coupling is identical for the recombinant human A1-receptor and its counterpart in the native membrane; (iii) and that species differences between bovine and human receptor exist not only in their pharmacological profile but also in their G protein specificity suggesting that species homologues of receptors may use different signaling mechanisms.