1. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), applied in the bathing solution or ionophoretically, depolarized freshly dispersed single arterial smooth muscle cells obtained by collagenase and elastase treatment of the rabbit ear artery. 2. Ionophoretic application of ATP evoked an inward current with a latency of about 70 ms and a time to peak of about 230 ms in cells held under voltage clamp using whole-cell patch-pipette techniques. 3. Bath application of 10 microM-ATP evoked a transient inward current at negative holding potentials. The amplitude of the ATP-induced current was linearly related to the clamp potential with a reversal potential near 0 mV. Removal of extracellular calcium, buffering intracellular calcium with high EGTA concentration, or depleting calcium stores with caffeine or noradrenaline treatment did not affect the ATP-evoked current. 4. Changing the chloride concentration gradient by decreasing extracellular or intracellular chloride concentration, or using the chloride channel blocker, frusemide, had no effect on the currents. 5. Replacing sodium with Tris shifted the reversal potential to more negative potentials. The reversal potential was not affected by exchanging intracellular potassium for caesium or sodium. Replacing extracellular sodium with 89 mM-barium also had little effect on the reversal potential. 6. These results are consistent with ATP activating a conductance that is cation selective but allows both monovalent and divalent cations to pass across the membrane.