1. The actions of exogenously applied ATP were investigated with the whole-cell patch clamp method in single cells isolated from guinea-pig urinary bladder with a modified concentration jump technique. 2. Rapid application of ATP (threshold ca. 100 nM) depolarized the cell membrane with superimposition of action potentials which was followed by transient hyperpolarization. In the presence of D600, the amplitude of the ATP-induced depolarization was a function of the ATP concentration (EC50: 0.5-1 microM). 3. ATP activated a dose-dependent inward current with a short latency (18 ms with 10 microM ATP; measured as the time between the start of application and 10% of the peak). The relationship of the peak current versus ATP concentration was well fitted by a Michaelis-Menten equation with a Hill coefficient (n) of 1.7 and a dissociation constant (Kd) of 2.3 microM. The current desensitized rapidly and the time course of desensitization was a function of the ATP concentration and could be fitted by two exponentials. 4. The reversal potential of the ATP-activated current was near 0 mV. Replacement of extracellular Na by other monovalent or divalent cations indicated that the current flows through nonselective cation channels. 5. alpha,beta-Methylene ATP also produced a dose-dependent inward current but was less potent than ATP (n: 1.6, Kd: 10.4 microM). alpha,beta-Methylene ATP blocked the response to ATP by desensitization of the receptor. 6. alpha,beta-Methylene ATP was 50-100 times more potent than ATP at eliciting a contractile response of strips of detrusor smooth muscle. 7. The relevance of the above results to the possible role of ATP as the fast excitatory transmitter is discussed.