1. Emerging evidence indicates that nucleotide receptors are widely expressed in the nervous system. Here, we present evidence that P2Y and P2X receptors, particularly the P2X(7) subtype, are coupled to the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway in astrocytes. 2. P2Y and P2X receptor agonists ATP, uridine 5'-triphosphate (UTP) and 2',3'-O-(4-benzoyl)-benzoyl ATP (BzATP) stimulated Akt phosphorylation in primary cultures of rat cortical astrocytes. BzATP induced Akt phosphorylation in a concentration- and time-dependent manner, similar to the effect of BzATP on Akt phosphorylation in 1321N1 astrocytoma cells stably transfected with the rat P2X(7) receptor. Activation was maximal at 5 - 10 min and was sustained for 60 min; the EC(50) for BzATP was approximately 50 microM. In rat cortical astrocytes, the positive effect of BzATP on Akt phosphorylation was independent of glutamate release. 3. The effect of BzATP on Akt phosphorylation in rat cortical astrocytes was significantly reduced by the P2X(7) receptor antagonist Brilliant Blue G and the P2X receptor antagonist iso-pyridoxal-5'-phosphate-6-azophenyl-2',4'-disulfonic acid, but was unaffected by trinitrophenyl-ATP, oxidized ATP, suramin and reactive blue 2. 4. Results with specific inhibitors of signal transduction pathways suggest that extracellular and intracellular calcium, PI3K and a Src family kinase are involved in the BzATP-induced Akt phosphorylation pathway. 5. In conclusion, our data indicate that stimulation of astrocytic P2X(7) receptors, as well as other P2 receptors, leads to Akt activation. Thus, signaling by nucleotide receptors in astrocytes may be important in several cellular downstream effects related to the Akt pathway, such as cell cycle and apoptosis regulation, protein synthesis, differentiation and glucose metabolism.