The aim of the present study was to assess the purinoceptor functional responses of the urinary bladder by using isolated rat urinary bladder strip preparations. ATP elicited a transient bladder contraction followed by a sustained relaxation and ADP, UDP and UTP generated predominantly potent relaxations (relaxatory potencies: ADP = ATP > UDP = UTP). The ATP contractions were desensitized with the P2X(1/3) purinoceptor agonist/desensitizer alpha,beta-meATP and reduced by the P2 purinoceptor antagonist PPADS but unaffected by the P2 purinoceptor antagonist suramin. Electrical field stimulation (1-60 Hz) evoked frequency-dependent bladder contractions that were decreased by incubation with alpha,beta-meATP but not further decreased by PPADS. Suramin antagonized relaxations generated by UDP but not those by ADP, ATP or UTP. PPADS antagonized and tended to antagonize UTP and UDP relaxations, respectively, but did neither affect ADP nor ATP relaxations. ADP relaxations were insensitive to the P2Y(1) purinoceptor antagonist MRS 2179 and the ATP-sensitive potassium channel antagonist glibenclamide. The ATP relaxations were inhibited by the P1 purinoceptor antagonist 8-p-sulfophenyltheophylline but unaffected by the A2A adenosine receptor antagonist 8-(3-chlorostyryl)caffeine and glibenclamide. Adenosine evoked relaxations that were antagonized by the A2B adenosine receptor antagonist PSB 1115. Thus, in the rat urinary bladder purinergic contractions are elicited predominantly by stimulation of the P2X(1) purinoceptors, while UDP/UTP-sensitive P2Y purinoceptor(s) and P1 purinoceptors of the A2B adenosine receptor subtype are involved in bladder relaxation.