Adenosine triphosphate: established and potential clinical applications

Drugs. 1999 Aug;58(2):211-32. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199958020-00002.


Adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) is a purine nucleotide found in every cell of the human body. In addition to its well established role in cellular metabolism, extracellular ATP and its breakdown product adenosine, exert pronounced effects in a variety of biological processes including neurotransmission, muscle contraction, cardiac function, platelet function, vasodilatation and liver glycogen metabolism. These effects are mediated by both P1 and P2 receptors. A cascade of ectonucleotidases plays a role in the effective regulation of these processes and may also have a protective function by keeping extracellular ATP and adenosine levels within physiological limits. In recent years several clinical applications of ATP and adenosine have been reported. In anaesthesia, low dose adenosine reduced neuropathic pain, hyperalgesia and ischaemic pain to a similar degree as morphine or ketamine. Postoperative opioid use was reduced. During surgery, ATP and adenosine have been used to induce hypotension. In patients with haemorrhagic shock, increased survival was observed after ATP treatment. In cardiology, ATP has been shown to be a well tolerated and effective pulmonary vasodilator in patients with pulmonary hypertension. Bolus injections of ATP and adenosine are useful in the diagnosis and treatment of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias. Adenosine also allowed highly accurate diagnosis of coronary artery disease. In pulmonology, nucleotides in combination with a sodium channel blocker improved mucociliary clearance from the airways to near normal in patients with cystic fibrosis. In oncology, there are indications that ATP may inhibit weight loss and tumour growth in patients with advanced lung cancer. There are also indications of potentiating effects of cytostatics and protective effects against radiation tissue damage. Further controlled clinical trials are warranted to determine the full beneficial potential of ATP, adenosine and uridine 5'-triphosphate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Diphosphate / metabolism
  • Adenosine Diphosphate / pharmacology*
  • Adenosine Diphosphate / physiology
  • Adenosine Diphosphate / therapeutic use*
  • Anesthesia / methods
  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / drug therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy


  • Adenosine Diphosphate