Extracellular ATP, related nucleotides and adenosine are among the earliest signaling molecules, operating in virtually all tissues and cells. Through their specific receptors, namely purinergic P1 for nucleosides and P2 for nucleotides, they are involved in a wide array of physiological effects ranging from neurotransmission and muscle contraction to endocrine secretion, vasodilation, immune response, and fertility. The purinergic system also participates in the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells from different niches. In particular, both mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and neural stem cells are endowed with several purinergic receptors and ecto-nucleotide metabolizing enzymes, and release extracellular purines that mediate autocrine and paracrine growth/proliferation, pro- or anti-apoptotic processes, differentiation-promoting effects and immunomodulatory actions. Here, we discuss the often opposing roles played by ATP and adenosine in adult neurogenesis in both physiological and pathological conditions, as well as in adipogenic and osteogenic MSC differentiation. We also focus on how purinergic ligands produced and released by transplanted stem cells can be regarded as ideal candidates to mediate the crosstalk with resident stem cell niches, promoting cell growth and survival, regulating inflammation and, therefore, contributing to local tissue homeostasis and repair.
Keywords: ATP; adenosine; mesenchymal stem cells; neural stem cells; purinergic receptors.