ATP, an extracellular signaling molecule in red blood cells: a messenger for malaria?

Biomed J. 2014 Sep-Oct;37(5):284-92. doi: 10.4103/2319-4170.132910.


Adenosine 5' triphosphate (ATP), discovered in 1929 by Karl Lohmannest, is described as an essential energy source for cells. In the biochemistry of all living organisms, ATP hydrolysis provides the energy required for the chemical reactions of metabolism. It is the precursor of a number of essential enzyme cofactors, such as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD + ) and coenzyme A [NAD + , flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD), and is ATP coenzyme A are all formed from ATP] and is the source of the phosphoryl group in most kinase-mediated phosphorylation reactions. Another essential, but less known function is that ATP plays a very important role as an extracellular signaling molecule, allowing cells and tissues to communicate. ATP is converted into cAMP, a major second messenger involved in many cellular processes, by adenylyl cyclase, a membrane-associated enzyme. In this review, we describe the role of ATP as a beneficial extracellular molecule released by healthy red blood cells (RBCs) in response to hypoxia to mediate a vasodilator signal, by oxidatively stressed RBCs, and by Plasmodium falciparum-infected RBCs (iRBCs), and its similarity with released ATP that by the combined action of the ectonucleotidases CD39 and CD73 is converted to adenosine that mediates sickling in sickle cell disease (SCD).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Malaria / metabolism*
  • NAD / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • NAD
  • Adenosine Triphosphate