In mammalian taste buds, ionotropic P2X receptors operate in gustatory nerve endings to mediate afferent inputs. Thus, ATP secretion represents a key aspect of taste transduction. Here, we characterized individual vallate taste cells electrophysiologically and assayed their secretion of ATP with a biosensor. Among electrophysiologically distinguishable taste cells, a population was found that released ATP in a manner that was Ca(2+) independent but voltage-dependent. Data from physiological and pharmacological experiments suggested that ATP was released from taste cells via specific channels, likely to be connexin or pannexin hemichannels. A small fraction of ATP-secreting taste cells responded to bitter compounds, indicating that they express taste receptors, their G-protein-coupled and downstream transduction elements. Single cell RT-PCR revealed that ATP-secreting taste cells expressed gustducin, TRPM5, PLCbeta2, multiple connexins and pannexin 1. Altogether, our data indicate that tastant-responsive taste cells release the neurotransmitter ATP via a non-exocytotic mechanism dependent upon the generation of an action potential.