We tested the effects of adenosine and 2-deoxyadenosine on the activation of human spermatozoa. In the asthenozoospermic group of patients adenosine produces an increase in sperm motility from 33.3 +/- 2.1% to 42.1 +/- 3.4%, progressive motility from 22.5 +/- 1.3% to 28.6 +/- 1.7% and forward progression rating from 2.1 +/- 0.2% to 2.8 +/- 0.1%. 2-Deoxyadenosine stimulated asthenozoospermic samples to a greater degree than adenosine. Sperm motility rose to 48.9 +/- 3.4%, progressive motility to 32.1 +/- 3.4% and forward progression rating to 3.0 +/- 0.1% following stimulation with 2-deoxy-adenosine. The kinetic parameters and basic characteristics of dynein ATPase were determined. The maximum activity of dynein ATPase, Vmax, was significantly different (P < 0.001) for asthenozoospermic and normozoospermic samples: 6.46 +/- 2.1 nmol Pi/mg/min and 16.99 +/- 3.7 nmol Pi/mg/min respectively. However, the enzyme affinity for ATP was not different. Stimulation of asthenozoospermic samples with adenosine and 2-deoxyadenosine caused an increase of Vmax (70-90% and 90-110% respectively) and no significant change in KM was observed. In order to block the nucleoside transporter and to eliminate the action of adenosine inside the cell, dipyridamole was used but the effects of adenosine were not neutralized. 5'-(N-ethylcarboxy-amido)-adenosine showed effects similar to those of adenosine, even when applied in 1 microM concentration. These results indicate that adenosine and its analogues stimulate sperm motility and activity of dynein ATPase, most probably via A2 receptors.