- We have used real-time dynamic video imaging of Fura-2 fluorescence to study the acute effects of extracellular ATP on [Ca2+]i in pituitary cells and found that ATP produced a rapid biphasic cytosolic Ca2+ increase in a dose-dependent manner in both rat pituitary gonadotropes and gonadotrope-derived alpha T3-1 cells. Removal of extracellular Ca2+ only attenuated the plateau phase of ATP-induced intracellular Ca2+ response and suramin (100 microM), a P2-purinoceptor antagonist, reduced the ATP effect by 40-60%. Further studies revealed the following rank-order of agonist potency in the Ca2+ response: -ATP = ADP = UTP > 2-methylthioATP > beta, gamma-methylene ATP/alpha,beta-methylene ATP. Both homologous and heterologous desensitization occurred with ATP and UTP and these did not have additive effects. Together the data suggest that the intracellular Ca2+ responses of gonadotropes and alpha T3-1 cells to these nucleotides are mediated by a single class of receptor pharmacologically characterized as the P2U subtype. This is the first demonstration of functional ATP receptors in pituitary gonadotropes.