Extracellular ATP exerts its effects through P2 purinoceptors: these are ligand-gated ion channels (P2x) or G-protein-coupled receptors (P2Y, P2U). ATP at P2x receptors mediates synaptic transmission between neurons and from neurons to smooth muscle, being responsible, for example, for sympathetic vasoconstriction in small arteries and arterioles. We have now cloned a complementary DNA encoding the P2x receptor from rat vas deferens and expressed it in Xenopus oocytes and mammalian cells. ATP activates a cation-selective ion channel with relatively high calcium permeability. Structural predictions suggest that the protein (399 amino acids long) is mostly extracellular and contains only two transmembrane domains plus a pore-forming motif which resembles that of potassium channels. The P2x receptor thus defines a new family of ligand-gated ion channels.