Extracellular ATP is a key neuromodulator of visual and auditory sensory epithelia. In the rat cochlea, pharmacological dissection indicates that ATP, acting through a highly sensitive purinergic/IP(3)-mediated signaling pathway with (little or) no involvement of ryanodine receptors, is the principal paracrine mediator implicated in the propagation of calcium waves through supporting and epithelial cells. Measurement of sensitivity to UTP and other purinergic agonists implicate P2Y(2) and P2Y(4) as the main P2Y receptor isoforms involved in these responses. Ca2+ waves, elicited under highly reproducible conditions by carefully controlling dose (1 microM) and timing of focal agonist application (0.2s), extended over radial distance greater than 160 microm from the source, identical to those activated by damaging single outer hair cells. Altogether, these results indicate that intercellular calcium waves are a robust phenomenon that confers a significant ability for cell-cell communication in the mammalian cochlea. Further ongoing research will reveal the roles that such Ca2+ waves play in the inner ear.