The adenosine A1/A2 adenosine agonist 5'-(N-ethylcarboxamido) adenosine (NECA) and bradykinin both limit infarction when administered at reperfusion in rabbits. This study compares the signal transduction pathways responsible for their anti-infarct effect. Receptor agonists were administered to isolated rabbit hearts starting 25 min after the onset of a 30-min period of ischemia and continued into the 2-h reperfusion period. Infarct size was measured. Both NECA and bradykinin decreased infarction from 31.5 +/- 2.4% of the risk zone in untreated hearts to 11.8 +/- 2.0% and 15.4 +/- 2.4%, respectively (P<0.05). Protection from both agents was blocked by PD98059, wortmannin, and Nomega-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), thus demonstrating dependence on activation of extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and stimulation of nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Both wortmannin and PD98059 prevented phosphorylation of ERK 1/2 in NECA-treated hearts, whereas only wortmannin and not PD98059 blocked Akt phosphorylation. These data suggest Akt is upstream of ERK 1/2. In addition, 8-(3-chlorostyryl) caffeine blocked NECA's protection indicating that A2 adenosine receptors trigger NECA's anti-infarct effect. Of note, both bradykinin and acetylcholine (ACh) administered before ischemia to trigger preconditioning's cardioprotection use PI3K and NOS in their signaling pathway. Curiously, however, ACh, unlike bradykinin, was not protective when administered at reperfusion. Hence, both NECA and bradykinin administered at reperfusion protect through a common signaling pathway that includes PI3K, NO, and ERK.