Biological functions of ecto-enzymes in regulating extracellular adenosine levels in neoplastic and inflammatory disease states

J Mol Med (Berl). 2013 Feb;91(2):165-72. doi: 10.1007/s00109-012-0991-z. Epub 2013 Jan 6.


When present in the extracellular environment, the nucleoside adenosine protects cells and tissues from excessive inflammation and immune-mediated damage while promoting healing processes. This role has been highlighted experimentally using distinct disease models, including those of colitis, diabetes, asthma, sepsis, and ischemic injury. Adenosine also suppresses immune responses, as in the tumor microenvironment, assisting immune evasion while promoting angiogenesis. The mechanisms involved in adenosine signaling are addressed elsewhere in this issue. Here, the authors specifically address the generation of adenosine from extracellular nucleotides. This process is catalyzed by a series of plasma membrane ectonucleotidases, with the focus in this article on members of the CD39, CD73, and CD38 families and on their role in inflammatory and neoplastic hematological diseases. Pharmacological modulation of adenosine generation by drugs that either have or modulate ectonucleotidase function might be exploited to treat these diverse conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Reperfusion Injury / metabolism
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / metabolism
  • Sepsis / metabolism


  • Hydrolases
  • Adenosine