Adenosine in the airways: implications and applications

Eur J Pharmacol. 2006 Mar 8;533(1-3):77-88. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2005.12.056. Epub 2006 Feb 3.


Adenosine in a signaling nucleoside eliciting many physiological responses. Elevated levels of adenosine have been found in bronchoalveolar lavage, blood and exhaled breath condensate of patients with asthma a condition characterized by chronic airway inflammation. In addition, inhaled adenosine-5'-monophosphate induces bronchoconstriction in asthmatics but not in normal subjects. Studies on animals and humans have shown that bronchoconstriction is most likely due to the release of inflammatory mediators from mast cells. However a number of evidences suggest that adenosine modulates the function of many other cells involved in airway inflammation such as neutrophils, eosinophils, lymphocytes and macrophages. Although this clear pro-inflammatory role in the airways, adenosine may activate also protective mechanisms particularly against lung injury. For many years this dual role of adenosine in the respiratory system has represented an enigma, and only recently it has become clear that biological functions of adenosine are mediated by four distinct subtypes of receptors (A1, A2A, A2B, and A3) and that biological responses are determined by the different pattern of receptors distribution in specific cells. Therefore, pharmacological modulation of adenosine receptors, particularly A2B, may represent a novel therapeutic approach for inflammatory diseases. Moreover, as bronchial response to adenosine strictly reflects airway inflammation in asthma, bronchial challenge with adenosine is considered a valuable clinical tool to monitor airway inflammation, to follow the response to anti-inflammatory treatments and to help in the diagnostic discrimination between asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine / metabolism*
  • Adenosine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / metabolism
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / physiopathology*
  • Bronchoconstriction / drug effects
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Receptor, Adenosine A1 / drug effects
  • Receptor, Adenosine A1 / metabolism
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A / drug effects
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A / metabolism
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2B / drug effects
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2B / metabolism
  • Respiratory System / metabolism*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Receptor, Adenosine A1
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2B
  • Adenosine