Purified adenosine kinase (AK) from Syrian hamster and bovine liver was examined for the presence of adenosine (Ad)-AMP exchange activity. The enzyme from both sources, in addition to catalyzing the conventional ATP-dependent phosphorylation of adenosine, supported an Ad-AMP exchange reaction that required ADP. Under optimal conditions both these reactions were found to occur at comparable rates. Several observations strongly indicate that the Ad-AMP exchange activity is an integral part of AK and it is likely associated with its catalytic mechanism. These observations include: (i) Both AK and Ad-AMP exchange activities show a nearly complete dependence upon the presence of pentavalent ions such as phosphate, arsenate or vanadate for catalysis; (ii) Both activities show similar heat-lability and inhibition by 5-iodotubercidin (5-ITu); (iii) In a Chinese hamster cell mutant resistant to adenosine analogs that lacked AK activity, the Ad-AMP activity was also found to be absent. The presence of a phosphoryl-enzyme intermediate, or any exchange between free 32Pi and any of the reactants, however, was not detected under the reaction conditions. Some implications of these observations regarding the catalytic mechanism of AK are discussed.