BACKGROUND: Adenosine 5'-tetraphosphate(ATPP), an endogenous nucleotide, is stored in cells and released into the extracellular space upon stimulation. Some of the biological responses to ATPP were reported, but characteristics of its receptor were not well known. Present study was conducted to investigate the effects of ATPP on mechanical contractility, resting membrane potential and action potential of rat left atrium. METHODS: Left atrium was isolated from Sprague-Dawley rat. Mechanical contraction induced by electrical field stimulation(EFS) was recorded on polygraph using force transducer. With glass microelectrodes(10 MOmega), potential difference across the membrane was measured and recorded on an oscilloscope and a polygraph. RESULTS: ATPP reduced the left atrial contractility with concentration-dependent manner. ATPP also hyperpolarized the resting membrane potential and decreased the action potential duration of the left atrial cell. Nucleotides other than ATPP, such as ATP, ADP, AMP and adenosine, have the same effect as ATPP. However, there is no difference among the nucleotides. Prior treatment of DPCPX, a P1-purinoceptor blocker, inhibited the ATPP-induced negative inotropism and changes of the membrane potential. But suramin, a nonselective P2-purinoceptor blocker, did not alter the effects of ATPP. alpha, beta methylene ADP and adenosine deaminase, which attenuates hydrolysis of adenine nucleotides and inactivates adenosine respectively, did not influence the effects of adenine nucleotides except for adenosine. CONCLUSION: ATPP reduced the mechanical contractility, hyperpolarized the resting membrance potential and decreased duration of action potential of rat left atrium. These effects were induced by ATPP directly, not by adenosine from hydrolyzed ATPP.