The involvement of extracellular nucleotides and adenosine in an array of cell-specific responses has long been known and appreciated, but the integrative view of purinergic signalling as a multistep coordinated cascade has emerged recently. Current models of nucleotide turnover include: (i) transient release of nanomolar concentrations of ATP and ADP; (ii) triggering of signalling events via a series of ligand-gated (P2X) and metabotropic (P2Y) receptors; (iii) nucleotide breakdown by membrane-bound and soluble nucleotidases, including the enzymes of ecto-nucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase (E-NTPDase) family, ecto-nucleotide pyrophosphatase/phosphodiesterase (E-NPP) family, ecto-5'-nucleotidase/CD73, and alkaline phosphatases; (iv) interaction of the resulting adenosine with own nucleoside-selective receptors; and finally, (v) extracellular adenosine inactivation via adenosine deaminase and purine nucleoside phosphorylase reactions and/or nucleoside uptake by the cells. In contrast to traditional paradigms that focus on purine-inactivating mechanisms, it has now become clear that "classical" intracellular ATP-regenerating enzymes, adenylate kinase, nucleoside diphosphate (NDP) kinase and ATP synthase can also be co-expressed on the cell surface. Furthermore, data on the ability of various cells to retain micromolar ATP levels in their pericellular space, as well as to release other related compounds (adenosine, UTP, dinucleotide polyphosphates and nucleotide sugars) gain another important insight into our understanding of mechanisms regulating a signalling cascade. This review summarizes recent advances in this rapidly evolving field, with particular emphasis on the nucleotide-releasing and purine-converting pathways in the vasculature.