Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a debilitating hemolytic genetic disorder with high morbidity and mortality affecting millions of individuals worldwide. Although SCD was discovered more than a century ago, no effective mechanism-based prevention and treatment are available due to poorly understood molecular basis of sickling, the fundamental pathogenic process of the disease. SCD patients constantly face hypoxia. One of the best-known signaling molecules to be induced under hypoxic conditions is adenosine. Recent studies demonstrate that hypoxia-mediated elevated adenosine signaling plays an important role in normal erythrocyte physiology. In contrast, elevated adenosine signaling contributes to sickling and multiple life threatening complications including tissue damage, pulmonary dysfunction and priapism. Here, we summarize recent research on the role of adenosine signaling in normal and sickle erythrocytes, progression of the disease and therapeutic implications. In normal erythrocytes, both genetic and pharmacological studies demonstrate that adenosine can enhance 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate (2,3-BPG) production via A(2B) receptor (ADORA2B) activation, suggesting that elevated adenosine has an unrecognized role in normal erythrocytes to promote O(2) release and prevent acute ischemic tissue injury. However, in sickle erythrocytes, the beneficial role of excessive adenosine-mediated 2,3-BPG induction becomes detrimental by promoting deoxygenation, polymerization of sickle hemoglobin and subsequent sickling. Additionally, adenosine signaling via the A(2A) receptor (ADORA2A) on invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells inhibits iNKT cell activation and attenuates pulmonary dysfunction in SCD mice. Finally, elevated adenosine coupled with ADORA2BR activation is responsible for priapism, a dangerous complication seen in SCD. Overall, the research reviewed here reveals a differential role of elevated adenosine in normal erythrocytes, sickle erythrocytes, iNK cells and progression of disease. Thus, adenosine signaling represents a potentially important therapeutic target for the treatment and prevention of disease.
Copyright © 2012 Institut Pasteur. Published by Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.