Dendritic cells (DCs) are specialized antigen-presenting cells characterized by their ability to migrate into target sites, process antigens, and activate naive T cells. In this study, we analyzed the biological activity and intracellular signaling of adenosine by using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assays to investigate mRNA expression of A(1), A(2a) and A(3) adenosine receptors in immature and mature human DCs. Functional experiments on adenosine stimulation showed chemotaxis, intracellular calcium transients, and actin polymerization, but no activation of adenylate cyclase in immature DCs. Experiments with receptor isotype-selective agonists and antagonists as well as pertussis toxin revealed that chemotaxis, calcium transients, and actin polymerization were mediated via G(i-) or G(0-)protein-coupled A(1) and A(3) receptors. Maturation of DCs induced by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) resulted in down-regulation of A(1) and A(3) receptor mRNAs, although A(2a) receptor mRNA was still expressed. However, in LPS-differentiated DCs, adenosine and an A(2a) receptor agonist stimulated adenylate cyclase activity, enhanced intracellular cAMP levels, and inhibited interleukin 12 (IL-12) production. These effects could be completely prevented by pretreatment with A(2) receptor antagonist. These findings strongly suggest that adenosine has important but distinct biological effects in DCs activity as a chemotaxin for immature DCs and as a modulator of IL-12 production in mature DCs. These effects can be explained by differential expression of adenosine receptor subtypes.