Fluorescence imaging of extracellular adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP) binding sites on inner and outer hair cells isolated from the guinea pig organ of Corti was achieved using the fluorescent analog of ATP, 2′- (or-3′)-O-(trinitrophenyl)adenosine-5′- triphosphate (TNP-ATP; 30–75 microM). This analog, which fluoresces on binding to these sites, was pressure applied by micropipette while hair cells were viewed by fluorescence microscopy. Fluorescence imaging revealed a widespread distribution of extracellular binding sites, including the stereocilia, cuticular plate, and the basolateral margins of the cells, but particularly in infracuticular and infranuclear regions. In support of extracellular binding, simultaneous electrophysiological recordings demonstrated that rapid washout of TNP-ATP-induced fluorescence was dependent upon cell integrity. Suramin, a nonselective P2 purinoceptor antagonist, coapplied with TNP-ATP, reduced the fluorescence observed on the stereocilia and apical surface of the cuticular plate only. This implies that binding sites on the apical surface of hair cells are P2 receptors, consistent with previous electrophysiological evidence for localization of P2 receptors to the apical surface of cochlear hair cells (Housley et al., 1992). Binding of TNP-ATP to P2 purinoceptors was confirmed by its antagonism of the inward current elicited by ATP (10 microM) in voltage-clamped hair cells. Fluorescence from the basolateral margin was significantly quenched when TNP-ATP was applied in divalent cation-free solution. Because divalent cations are required for ATPase activity, this finding provides evidence for the presence of ecto-ATPases on the basolateral membrane of hair cells. The divalent cation-free condition had no significant effect on the ATP-gated P2 purinoceptor conductance. We propose that there are two classes of ATP binding sites on cochlear hair cells: apically located P2 purinoceptors gating nonselective cation channels and basolaterally located ecto- ATPases that may be involved in purine turnover.