Physiology and pathophysiology of purinergic neurotransmission

Physiol Rev. 2007 Apr;87(2):659-797. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00043.2006.


This review is focused on purinergic neurotransmission, i.e., ATP released from nerves as a transmitter or cotransmitter to act as an extracellular signaling molecule on both pre- and postjunctional membranes at neuroeffector junctions and synapses, as well as acting as a trophic factor during development and regeneration. Emphasis is placed on the physiology and pathophysiology of ATP, but extracellular roles of its breakdown product, adenosine, are also considered because of their intimate interactions. The early history of the involvement of ATP in autonomic and skeletal neuromuscular transmission and in activities in the central nervous system and ganglia is reviewed. Brief background information is given about the identification of receptor subtypes for purines and pyrimidines and about ATP storage, release, and ectoenzymatic breakdown. Evidence that ATP is a cotransmitter in most, if not all, peripheral and central neurons is presented, as well as full accounts of neurotransmission and neuromodulation in autonomic and sensory ganglia and in the brain and spinal cord. There is coverage of neuron-glia interactions and of purinergic neuroeffector transmission to nonmuscular cells. To establish the primitive and widespread nature of purinergic neurotransmission, both the ontogeny and phylogeny of purinergic signaling are considered. Finally, the pathophysiology of purinergic neurotransmission in both peripheral and central nervous systems is reviewed, and speculations are made about future developments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / physiology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Ganglia, Autonomic / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Neuroeffector Junction / physiology
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Receptors, Purinergic / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Receptors, Purinergic
  • Adenosine Triphosphate