Human leukocytes can express the P2X(7) purinergic receptor, an ionic channel gated by extracellular ATP, for which the physiological role is only partially understood. Transfection of P2X(7) cDNA into lymphoid cells that lack this receptor sustains their proliferation in serum-free medium. Increased proliferation of serum-starved P2X(7) transfectants is abolished by the P2X(7) receptor blocker oxidized ATP or by the ATP hydrolase apyrase. Both wild type and P2X(7)-transfected lymphoid cells release large amounts of ATP into the culture medium. These data suggest the operation of an ATP-based autocrine/paracrine loop that supports lymphoid cell growth in the absence of serum-derived growth factors.