Historical review: ATP as a neurotransmitter

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2006 Mar;27(3):166-76. doi: 10.1016/j.tips.2006.01.005. Epub 2006 Feb 17.


Purinergic signalling is now recognized to be involved in a wide range of activities of the nervous system, including neuroprotection, central control of autonomic functions, neural-glial interactions, control of vessel tone and angiogenesis, pain and mechanosensory transduction and the physiology of the special senses. In this article, I give a personal retrospective of the discovery of purinergic neurotransmission in the early 1970s, the struggle for its acceptance for approximately 20 years, the expansion into purinergic cotransmission and its eventual acceptance when receptor subtypes for ATP were cloned and characterized and when purinergic synaptic transmission between neurons in the brain and peripheral ganglia was described in the early 1990s. I also discuss the current status of the field, including recent interest in the pathophysiology of purinergic signalling and its therapeutic potential.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / metabolism
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiology
  • Receptors, Purinergic / metabolism
  • Receptors, Purinergic / physiology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Purinergic
  • Adenosine Triphosphate