Extracellular ATP has been proposed as a paracrine signal in rodent islets, but it is unclear what role ATP plays in human islets. We now show the presence of an ATP signaling pathway that enhances the human beta cell's sensitivity and responsiveness to glucose fluctuations. By using in situ hybridization, RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, and Western blotting as well as recordings of cytoplasmic-free Ca(2+) concentration, [Ca(2+)](i), and hormone release in vitro, we show that human beta cells express ionotropic ATP receptors of the P2X(3) type and that activation of these receptors by ATP coreleased with insulin amplifies glucose-induced insulin secretion. Released ATP activates P2X(3) receptors in the beta-cell plasma membrane, resulting in increased [Ca(2+)](i) and enhanced insulin secretion. Therefore, in human islets, released ATP forms a positive autocrine feedback loop that sensitizes the beta cell's secretory machinery. This may explain how the human pancreatic beta cell can respond so effectively to relatively modest changes in glucose concentration under physiological conditions in vivo.