Aim of this study was to investigate whether the polymorphic ADA (Adenosine Deaminase, EC 188.8.131.52) gene, which determines the cellular level of adenosine and plays a crucial role in the regulation of the immune system and in the control of metabolic rates, is involved in longevity. 884 unrelated healthy individuals (age range 10-106 years, 400 males and 484 females) from central Italy were studied. ADA genotyping was performed by RFLP-PCR. Frequency distributions were compared using the chi-square test and a three-way contingency table analysis by a log linear model was applied to test independence between the variables. We found that ADA influences human life-span in a sex and age specific way. An increased frequency of ADA*2 carriers was found in males aged 80-85, and a decreased frequency in males over 85 (chi(2) = 13.93; df = 3; P = 0.003); significant differences among the age groups was not found in females. A strong interaction among age groups, ADA genotype and sex (G = 15.086; df = 3; P = 0.0017) was found. Males aged 80-85 could be protected from ischemic stroke by higher levels of adenosine (determined by the ADA*2 allele). The decrease of ADA*2 carriers in males over 85 may depend essentially on immunological factors; reduced levels of adenosine protect from asthma and other pulmonary diseases and lead to a reduced activation of inflammatory cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines production. Moreover, the low level of adenosine may potentiate the activity of NK and other cellular effectors against tumor cells. The negligible effect of ADA genetic polymorphism in females suggest a marginal influence of genetic factors in determining longevity in this sex, confirming previous reports.