Adenosine has several functions within the CNS that involve an inhibitory tone of neurotransmission and neuroprotective actions in pathological conditions. The understanding of adenosine production and release in the brain is therefore of fundamental importance and has been extensively studied. Conflicting results are often obtained regarding the cellular source of adenosine, the stimulus that induces release and the mechanism for release, in relation to different experimental approaches used to study adenosine production and release. A neuronal origin of adenosine has been demonstrated through electrophysiological approaches showing that neurones can release significant quantities of adenosine, sufficient to activate adenosine receptors and to modulate synaptic functions. Specific actions of adenosine are mediated by different receptor subtypes (A(1), A(2A), A(2B) and A(3)), which are activated by various ranges of adenosine concentrations. Another important issue is the measurement of adenosine concentrations in the extracellular fluid under different conditions in order to know the degree of receptor stimulation and understand adenosine central actions. For this purpose, several experimental approaches have been used both in vivo and in vitro, which provide an estimation of basal adenosine levels in the range of 50-200 nM. The purpose of this review is to describe pathways of adenosine production and metabolism, and to summarize characteristics of adenosine release in the brain in response to different stimuli. Finally, studies performed to evaluate adenosine concentrations under physiological and hypoxic/ischemic conditions will be described to evaluate the degree of adenosine receptor activation.