The effects of extracellular ATP on ion fluxes and the intracellular free Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) were examined using a suspension of rat parotid acinar cells and were contrasted with the effects of the muscarinic agonist carbachol. Although ATP and carbachol both rapidly increased [Ca2+]i about threefold above the resting level (200-250 nM), the effect of ATP was due primarily to an influx of Ca2+ across the plasma membrane, while the initial response to carbachol was due to a release of Ca2+ from intracellular stores. Within 10 s, ATP (1 mM) and carbachol (20 microM) reduced the cellular Cl- content by 39-50% and cell volume by 15-25%. Both stimuli reduced the cytosolic K+ content by 57-65%, but there were marked differences in the rate and pattern of net K+ movement as well as the effects of K+ channel inhibitors on the effluxes initiated by the two stimuli. The maximum rate of the ATP-stimulated K+ efflux (approximately 2,200 nmol K+/mg protein per min) was about two-thirds that of the carbachol-initiated efflux rate, and was reduced by approximately 30% (vs. 60% for the carbachol-stimulated K+ efflux) by TEA (tetraethylammonium), an inhibitor of the large conductance (BK) K+ channel. Charybdotoxin, another K+ channel blocker, was markedly more effective than TEA on the effects of both agonists, and reduced the rate of K+ efflux initiated by both ATP and carbachol by approximately 80%. The removal of extracellular Ca2+ reduced the ATP- and the carbachol-stimulated rates of K+ efflux by 55 and 17%, respectively. The rate of K+ efflux initiated by either agonist was reduced by 78-95% in cells that were loaded with BAPTA to slow the elevation of [Ca2+]i. These results indicated that ATP and carbachol stimulated the efflux of K+ through multiple types of K(+)-permeable channels, and demonstrated that the relative proportion of efflux through the different pathways was different for the two stimuli. ATP and carbachol also stimulated the rapid entry of Na+ into the parotid cell, and elevated the intracellular Na+ content to 4.4 and 2.6 times the normal level, respectively. The rate of Na+ entry through Na(+)-K(+)-2Cl- cotransport and Na(+)-H+ exchange was similar whether stimulated by ATP, carbachol, or ionomycin, and uptake through these two carrier-mediated transporters accounted for 50% of the ATP-promoted Na+ influx. The remainder may be due to a nonselective cation channel and an ATP-gated cation channel that is also permeable to Ca2+.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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