When rat brain synaptosomes were incubated for 10 min at 37 degrees C, basal accumulation of adenosine in the medium was 66 pmol/mg of protein. An elevated K+ level (24 mM) evoked an additional accumulation of 200 pmol/mg of protein, and 50 microM veratridine evoked 583 pmol of adenosine accumulation/mg of protein. K+- and veratridine-evoked accumulation of adenosine did not arise from microsomal or mitochondrial contaminants of the synaptosomal preparation, because purified microsomes and mitochondria did not exhibit evoked accumulation of adenosine in the medium. K+-evoked accumulation of extrasynaptosomal adenosine was Ca2+-dependent, whereas veratridine-evoked accumulation of adenosine was increased in Ca2+-free medium. In the presence of alpha,beta-methylene ADP and GMP, which inhibit ecto-5'-nucleotidase, conversion of added ATP and AMP to adenosine was inhibited by 90% in synaptosomal suspensions. However, inhibition of ecto-5'-nucleotidase only reduced basal extrasynaptosomal accumulation of adenosine by 74%, veratridine-evoked accumulation of adenosine by 46%, and K+-evoked accumulation by 33%. Most of the basal accumulation of extrasynaptosomal adenosine appears to be derived from released nucleotide, probably ATP, but about half of the veratridine-evoked accumulation of adenosine and most of the K+-evoked accumulation may arise from adenosine released in its own right, rather than from a released nucleotide.