The hydrolytic rates and metabolic pool sizes of ATP were determined in intact cells by monitoring the time courses of 18O incorporation from 18O-water into the gamma-phosphoryl of ATP and orthophosphate. To calculate the rate of ATP hydrolysis, a kinetic model is used to fit the time course of the 18O labeling. The size of the metabolic pool of ATP is calculated from the 18O distribution after isotopic equilibrium has been achieved. Metabolic pools have a binomial distribution of 18O whereas nonmetabolic pools exhibit negligible 18O labeling. The application and limitations of this approach are illustrated with data from isolated toad retinas and human platelets. At 22 degrees C, the time constant of ATP hydrolysis in the dark-adapted toad retina is about 30 s. Under these conditions, over 80% of the retinal ATP is involved in high-energy phosphate metabolism. It is calculated that when cGMP metabolic flux in the photoreceptors is maximally stimulated by light, it accounts for 10% of the ATP utilization by the entire retina. The time constant of ATP hydrolysis in human platelets at 37 degrees C is approximately 1 s, and 60% of the platelet ATP is involved in energy metabolism.