Résumé : The plasma membrane of cells from rat submandibular glands was isolated and extensively sonicated. The homogenate was centrifuged at high speed in a discontinuous sucrose gradient. Light fractions contained vesicles analogous to rafts: they were rich in cholesterol, they contained GM1 and caveolin-1, and P2X7 receptors were detected in these fractions. The location of the P2X7 receptors in rafts was abolished when cellular cholesterol was removed by methyl-beta-cyclodextrin (MCD). ATP activated neutral sphingomyelinase (N-SMase), which provoked a decrease of the cellular content of sphingomyelin and an increase of ceramide levels in these cells and in the rafts. Treatment with MCD and filipin (but not with alpha-cyclodextrin) abolished the increase of the intracellular concentration of calcium ([Ca2+]i) in response to epinephrine but not to ATP. MCD and filipin also inhibited the activation by ATP of phospholipase A2 (PLA2). Inhibition of N-SMase with glutathione or GW4869 prevented the activation of PLA2 by P2X7 agonists without affecting [Ca2+]i levels. We conclude that P2X7 receptors are present in both raft and nonraft compartments of plasma membranes; the receptors forming a nonselective cation channel are located in the nonraft fraction. P2X7 receptors in the rafts are coupled to the activation of N-SMase, which increases the content of ceramides in rafts. This may contribute to the activation of PLA2 in response to P2X7 receptor occupancy.