1. We examined the effects of P2X purinoceptor agonists and P2 purinoceptor antagonists on mesenteric afferent nerves supplying the jejunum in the pentobarbitone sodium-anaesthetised rat. 2. ATP (0. 01-10 mg kg-1, i.a.) and alpha,beta-methylene-ATP (1-30 microg kg-1, i.a.) each induced dose-dependent increases in afferent nerve discharge and intrajejunal pressure. The effect on afferent nerves comprised an early (< 2 s after administration) intense burst of activity followed by a later increase (> 2 s after administration), less pronounced in comparison, which coincided with elevated intrajejunal pressure. 3. Pyridoxalphosphate-6-azophenyl-2', 4'-disulphonic acid (20 mg kg-1, i.v.) and suramin (80 mg kg-1, i.v. ) each antagonised both the early and later increases in afferent nerve discharge elicited by alpha,beta-methylene-ATP (30 microg kg-1, i.a.). 4. Co-administration of omega-conotoxin MVIIA and omega-conotoxin SVIB (each at 25 microg kg-1, i.v.), or treatment with the selective 5-HT3 receptor antagonist alosetron (30 microg kg-1, i.v.), did not affect the rapid burst of afferent nerve activity elicited by alpha,beta-methylene-ATP (30 microg kg-1, i.a.). However, toxin treatment did attenuate the elevations in intrajejunal pressure and the corresponding later phases of evoked afferent discharge, while alosetron inhibited basal afferent nerve activity. 5. In summary, ATP and alpha,beta-methylene-ATP each evoke excitation of mesenteric afferent nerves in the anaesthetised rat. We propose that the early increase in mesenteric afferent nerve activity represents a direct effect on the nerve ending, mediated by P2X receptors, whereas the later increase reflects activation of mechanosensitive fibres secondary to elevated intrajejunal pressure.