We isolated a cDNA from human brain encoding a purinergic receptor that shows a high degree of homology to the rat P2X4 receptor (87% identity). By fluorescence in situ hybridization, the human P2X4 gene has been mapped to region q24.32 of chromosome 12. Tissue distribution analysis of human P2X4 transcripts demonstrates a broad expression pattern in that the mRNA was detected not only in brain but also in all tissues tested. Heterologous expression of the human P2X4 receptor in Xenopus laevis oocytes and human embryonic kidney 293 cells evoked an ATP-activated channel. Simultaneous whole-cell current and Fura-2 fluorescence measurements in human embryonic kidney 293 cells transfected with human P2X4 cDNA allowed us to determine the fraction of the current carried by Ca2+; this was ~8%, demonstrating a high Ca2+ permeability. Low extracellular Zn2+ concentrations (5-10 μM) increase the apparent gating efficiency of human P2X4 by ATP without affecting the maximal response. However, raising the concentration of the divalent cation (>100 μM) inhibits the ATP-evoked current in a non-voltage- dependent manner. The human P2X4 receptor displays a very similar agonist potency profile to that of rat P2X4 (ATP >> 2-methylthio-ATP ≤ CTP > α,β- methyl-ene-ATP > dATP) but has a notably higher sensitivity for the antagonists suramin, pyridoxal-phosphate-6-azophenyl-2',4'-disulfonic acid, and bromphenol blue. Chimeric constructs between human and rat isoforms as well as single-point mutations were engineered to map the regions responsible for the different sensitivity to suramin and pyridoxal-phosphate-6- azophenyl-2',4'-disulfonic acid.