The first hydrophobic segment of the rat P2X(2) receptor extends from residue Leu(29) to Val(51). In the rat P2X(2) receptor, we mutated amino acids in this segment and adjoining flanking regions (Asp(15) through Thr(60)) individually to cysteine and expressed the constructs in human embryonic kidney cells. Whole-cell recordings were used to measure membrane currents evoked by brief (2-s) applications of ATP (0.3-100 microM). Currents were normal except for Y16C, R34C, Y43C, Y55C, and Q56C (no currents but normal membrane expression by immunohistochemistry), Q37C (small currents), and F44C (normal current but increased sensitivity to ATP, as well as alphabeta-methylene-ATP). We used methanethiosulfonates of positive, negative, or no charge to test the accessibility of the substituted cysteines. D15C, P19C, V23C, V24C, G30C, Q37C, F44C, and V48C were strongly inhibited by neutral, membrane-permeant methanethiosulfonates. Only V48C was also inhibited by positively and negatively charged methanethiosulfonates, consistent with an extracellular position; however, accessibility of V48C was increased by channel opening. V48C could disulfide with I328C, as shown by the large increase in ATP-evoked current caused by reducing agents. The results suggest that Val(48) at the outer end of the first hydrophobic segment takes part in the gating movement of channel opening.