ATP is an important vasoactive mediator, which acts via two receptor classes: P2X and P2Y. Activation of P2X receptors has traditionally been associated with the well-characterised vasoconstrictor properties of ATP. In the current study, we have shown that the P2X receptor ligand, α, β methylene ATP, induces vasodilation of rat isolated mesenteric arteries and that P2X receptors are abundantly expressed in the endothelium of these vessels. Second-order rat mesenteric arteries were mounted in myographs and vasomotor responses recorded. Both ATP and α, β methylene ATP induced a constriction followed by a vasodilation. The dilator effects of either ATP or α, β methylene ATP were slower in onset than those induced by acetylcholine. By contrast, the traditional vasodilator P2Y ligand, ADP, induced vasodilation without contraction. Vasodilation induced by α, β methylene ATP was endothelial dependent, but was not affected by treatment of the vessels with 1-NAME plus indomethacin alone. Dilation was, however, partially inhibited by the combination of apamin plus charybdotoxin and blocked by treating vessels with all four drugs. Using confocal microscopy, P2X receptor immunoreactivity was localised to the endothelial, smooth muscle and adventitial layers of mesenteric vessels. P2X protein migrated as a primary band at around 50-60 kDa in vascular tissue. These results show for the first time that P2X receptors are expressed on the endothelium and that a selective ligand of this receptor results in vasoconstriction followed by vasodilation. These observations have important implications for our understanding of the role of purines in biological responses.