The mammalian P2X receptor gene family encodes two-transmembrane domain nonselective cation channels gated by extracellular ATP. Anatomical localization data obtained by in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry have shown that neuronal P2X subunits are expressed in specific but overlapping distribution patterns. Therefore, the native ionotropic ATP receptors diversity most likely arises from interactions between different P2X subunits that generate hetero-multimers phenotypically distinct from homomeric channels. Rat P2X1 and P2X5 mRNAs are localized within common subsets of peripheral and central sensory neurons as well as spinal motoneurons. The present study demonstrates a functional association between P2X1 and P2X5 subunits giving rise to hybrid ATP-gated channels endowed with the pharmacology of P2X1 and the kinetics of P2X5. When expressed in Xenopus oocytes, hetero-oligomeric P2X1+5 ATP receptors were characterized by slowly desensitizing currents highly sensitive to the agonist alpha,beta-methylene ATP (EC50 = 1.1 microM) and to the antagonist trinitrophenyl ATP (IC50 = 64 nM), observed with neither P2X1 nor P2X5 alone. Direct physical evidence for P2X1+5 co-assembly was provided by reciprocal subunit-specific co-purifications between epitope-tagged P2X1 and P2X5 subunits transfected in HEK-293A cells.