Adenosine receptors and cancer

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2009;(193):399-441. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-89615-9_14.


The A(1), A(2A), A(2B) and A(3) G-protein-coupled cell surface adenosine receptors (ARs) are found to be upregulated in various tumor cells. Activation of the receptors by specific ligands, agonists or antagonists, modulates tumor growth via a range of signaling pathways. The A(1)AR was found to play a role in preventing the development of glioblastomas. This antitumor effect of the A(1)AR is mediated via tumor-associated microglial cells. Activation of the A(2A)AR results in inhibition of the immune response to tumors via suppression of T regulatory cell function and inhibition of natural killer cell cytotoxicity and tumor-specific CD4+/CD8+ activity. Therefore, it is suggested that pharmacological inhibition of A(2A)AR activation by specific antagonists may enhance immunotherapeutics in cancer therapy. Activation of the A(2B)AR plays a role in the development of tumors via upregulation of the expression levels of angiogenic factors in microvascular endothelial cells. In contrast, it was evident that activation of A(2B)AR results in inhibition of ERK1/2 phosphorylation and MAP kinase activity, which are involved in tumor cell growth signals. Finally, A(3)AR was found to be highly expressed in tumor cells and tissues while low expression levels were noted in normal cells or adjacent tissue. Receptor expression in the tumor tissues was directly correlated to disease severity. The high receptor expression in the tumors was attributed to overexpression of NF-kappaB, known to act as an A(3)AR transcription factor. Interestingly, high A(3)AR expression levels were found in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) derived from tumor-bearing animals and cancer patients, reflecting receptor status in the tumors. A(3)AR agonists were found to induce tumor growth inhibition, both in vitro and in vivo, via modulation of the Wnt and the NF-kappaB signaling pathways. Taken together, A(3)ARs that are abundantly expressed in tumor cells may be targeted by specific A(3)AR agonists, leading to tumor growth inhibition. The unique characteristics of these A(3)AR agonists make them attractive as drug candidates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine A2 Receptor Antagonists
  • Adenosine A3 Receptor Antagonists
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • NF-kappa B / physiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Receptor, Adenosine A1 / physiology
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A / physiology
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2B / physiology
  • Receptor, Adenosine A3 / physiology
  • Receptors, Purinergic P1 / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Wnt Proteins / physiology


  • Adenosine A2 Receptor Antagonists
  • Adenosine A3 Receptor Antagonists
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • NF-kappa B
  • Receptor, Adenosine A1
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2B
  • Receptor, Adenosine A3
  • Receptors, Purinergic P1
  • Wnt Proteins