1. Complementary DNAs for the ATP-gated ion channel subunits P2X1 (from human bladder) and P2X2 (from rat phaeochromocytoma (PC12) cells) were used to express the receptors in human embryonic kidney cells by stable transfection, and in Chinese hamster ovary cells by viral infection. 2. Membrane currents evoked by ATP were recorded by the whole-cell patch clamp method. The reversal potential of the current was measured with various intracellular and extracellular solutions and used to compute the relative permeability of the P2X receptor channels. 3. There was no difference between the two receptors with respect to their permeability to monovalent organic cations. The relative permeabilities (PX/PNa) were 2.3, 1.0, 1.0, 0.95, 0.72, 0.5, 0.29, 0.16, 0.04 and 0.03 for guanidinium, potassium, sodium, methylamine, caesium, dimethylamine, 2-methylethanolamine, tris(hydroxymethyl)-aminomethane, tetraethylammonium and N-methyl-D-glucamine, respectively (values for P2X2 receptor). 4. The calcium permeability of P2X1 receptors was greater than that of P2X2 receptors. Under biionic conditions (112 mM calcium outside, 154 mM sodium inside), PCa/PNa values were 3.9 and 2.2, respectively (corrected for ionic activities). 5. ATP-evoked currents in cells expressing the P2X2 receptor were strongly inhibited when the extracellular calcium concentration was increased (0.3-30 mM); the action of ATP could be restored by increasing the ATP concentration. ATP-evoked currents in cells expressing the P2X1 receptor were not inhibited by such increases in the extracellular calcium concentration.