In view of the evidence for a role for extracellular ATP in both pancreatic endocrine and exocrine functions, we have investigated the expression of P2X and P2Y receptors in this tissue in neonate and aged rat and mouse. Using immunohistochemistry it was shown that P2X(1), P2X(4), P2X(7), P2Y(1) and P2Y(2) receptors were present in different regions of the rat and mouse pancreas; P2X(3) and P2X(6) receptors were not found, and P2X(5) immunolabelling was only found in some nerves. The pancreatic vasculature of both rat and mouse expressed P2X(1), P2X(2), P2Y(1) and P2Y(2) receptors in the smooth muscle. P2X(1) and P2X(4) receptors were absent in the islets of the neonate pancreas, but were progressively upregulated with age after birth. In contrast, the greatest expression of P2Y(1) in cells from the duct system was in neonate pancreas, while there was no P2Y(1) expression in aged rat pancreas. P2X(7) receptors had a consistent pattern of distribution in all of the groups examined, being located in the outer periphery of the islet. Using antibodies raised against insulin, somatostatin and glucagon, double-labelling immunofluorescence was used to identify P2X(7)-positive cells in different islet of Langerhans cell populations. Our results demonstrated a clear immunoreaction to P2X(7) receptors in islet alpha cells, while no P2X(7) was expressed in beta and delta cells. The significance of the differential expression of P2 receptors in the pancreas during development and ageing, and a possible role for the proliferation and death of the islet cell population are discussed.