1. ATP was puff applied to cells of a mesodermal stem cell line, C3H10T1/2, and the responses were studied by whole-cell patch clamp recording. 2. In 91% of the cells (90/99), K+ current lasting for tens of seconds was observed after several seconds latency. The current showed outward rectification. In 10% of the cells (9/99), ATP induced Cl- current which also lasted for tens of seconds after several seconds latency, but showed little rectification. In 6% of these cells (5/99), both K+ and Cl- currents were induced by ATP. 3. The K+ current induced by ATP was dose dependent, with a Kd of 0.4 microM. The effects of ATP analogues were tested at a concentration of 20 microM. ADP and ATP-gamma-S induced the K+ current, while AMP and adenosine did not. alpha, beta-Methylene ATP produced a diminished K+ current. 4. The ATP-induced K+ current was not observed when EGTA in the internal solution was raised from 0.1 to 5 mM. In Fluo-3-loaded cells, an increase in intracellular Ca2+ concentration induced by the application of ATP was observed, and the time course was similar to the induced K+ current. Both the increase in intracellular Ca2+ and the K+ current were induced by ATP even in Ca(2+)-free external solution. Ryanodine (50 microM) in the external solution did not affect the ATP response, and application of 10 mM-caffeine alone to the external solution did not induce any response. 5. The variance of the steady-state fluctuations in the course of the ATP-induced slow K+ current was analysed. The single-channel conductance was estimated as 2.7 pS at 0 mV with external and internal K+ concentrations of 5 and 140 mM respectively. The K+ current was not affected by apamin at concentrations of up to 1 microM but was reduced to one-third by 140 mM-tetraethylammonium (TEA). 6. It was concluded that puff-applied ATP has two main effects in the mesodermal stem cells: an increase in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration and a succeeding hyperpolarization due to the Ca(2+)-activated K+ conductance which is present in this cell. The significance of the increase in intracellular Ca2+ caused by ATP is discussed.