In this report, the regulatable expression by tetracycline of the rat recombinant P2X(3) receptor in stably transfected Chinese hamster ovary (CHO-K1) expressing the tetracycline-controlled transactivator (tTA) is described. cDNA encoding the rat P2X(3)-receptor was subcloned into pTRE (a tetracycline-repressible expression vector) which was used to transfect stably CHO-K1 tTA cells. Using whole cell patch clamp techniques, 100 microM ATP evoked inward currents of 2.9+/-1.6 nA in transfected cells grown in the absence of tetracycline (tet-). The P2X(3) receptor protein was detectable by immunoblot as early as 24 h and protein expression levels continued to increase as much as 192 h following activation of tTA by the removal of the antibiotic. Saturation binding isotherms using [35S]ATP gamma S yielded a pK(d) of 8.2+/-0.1 and a B(max) of 31.9+/-3.5 pmol/mg protein in tet- cell membranes and a pK(d) of 8.1+/-0.1 and a B(max) of 5.8+/-0.8 pmol/mg protein in tet+ cell membranes. The agonist ligands 2MeSATP and alpha beta MeATP displaced the binding of [35S]ATP gamma S in tet- cell membranes with very high affinity, yielding pIC(50) values of 9.4+/-0.2 and 7.5+/-0. 2, respectively. In tet+ cell membrane, displacement of [35S]ATP gamma S by 2MeSATP and alpha beta MeATP was of much lower affinity (pIC(50) values of 7.8 and 6.2, respectively). ATP, ADP and UTP showed similar displacement of [35S]ATP gamma S binding in tet- and tet+ cell membranes. In other experiments, cytosolic Ca(2+) was monitored using the fluorescent indicator, fluo-3. Increases in cytosolic Ca(2+) were elicited by 100 nM alpha beta MeATP in tet- cells while no increases in cytosolic Ca(2+) were detected below 100 microM alpha beta MeATP in either tet+ cells or untransfected cells. These calcium responses to alpha beta MeATP had a pEC(50) of 6.7 and were transient, returning to baseline within 120 s. Suramin produced concentration-dependent, parallel, dextral shifts of E/[A] curves to alpha beta MeATP yielding a pK(B) of 5.6. PPADS produced non-parallel, dextral shifts of E/[A] curves to alpha beta MeATP which were insurmountable. These results show for the first time, expression of a functional, homomeric recombinant rat P2X(3) receptor which is under regulated expression in a stably transfected mammalian cell line.