Calcium waves represent a widespread form of intercellular communication. Although they have been thought for a long time to require gap junctions, we recently demonstrated that mouse cortical astrocytes use an extracellular messenger for calcium wave propagation. The present experiments identify ATP as a major extracellular messenger in this system. Medium collected from astrocyte cultures during (but not before) calcium wave stimulation contains ATP. The excitatory effects of medium samples and of ATP are blocked by purinergic receptor antagonists and by pretreatment with apyrase; these same purinergic receptor antagonists block propagation of electrically evoked calcium waves. ATP, applied at the concentration measured in medium samples, evokes responses that are qualitatively and quantitatively similar to those evoked by those medium samples. These data implicate ATP as an important transmitter between CNS astrocytes.