Activity-dependent release of ATP from synapses, axons and glia activates purinergic membrane receptors that modulate intracellular calcium and cyclic AMP. This enables glia to detect neural activity and communicate among other glial cells by releasing ATP through membrane channels and vesicles. Through purinergic signalling, impulse activity regulates glial proliferation, motility, survival, differentiation and myelination, and facilitates interactions between neurons, and vascular and immune system cells. Interactions among purinergic, growth factor and cytokine signalling regulate synaptic strength, development and responses to injury. We review the involvement of ATP and adenosine receptors in neuron-glia signalling, including the release and hydrolysis of ATP, how the receptors signal, the pharmacological tools used to study them, and their functional significance.