Recent studies in a variety of cell types have revealed several receptor subtypes that bind ATP and trigger increases in intracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i). The present studies were aimed at determining whether similar receptors are present in the rat terminal inner medullary collecting duct (IMCD). [Ca2+]i was measured using fura 2 in tubules dissected from collagenase-treated rat kidneys. ATP (1-100 microM) caused a rapid increase in [Ca2+]i with a prolonged late phase after an initial peak. A similar rise was observed in tubules exposed to UTP or to the poorly hydrolyzable analogue, adenosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) (ATP gamma S). In contrast, agonists that bind P2x, P2y, P2z, and P2t purinergic receptors did not affect [Ca2+]i. Removal of extracellular Ca2+ inhibited the response to ATP by approximately 50% with obliteration of the late phase. Furthermore, indomethacin attenuated the rise in [Ca2+]i produced by ATP. Adenosine analogues also increased [Ca2]i apparently by binding to distinct adenosine receptors rather than to the ATP receptor. We conclude that there is a nucleotide receptor in the rat terminal IMCD, which, when occupied, mobilizes intracellular Ca2+.