Adenosine (ADO) attenuates polymorphonuclear neutrophil (PMN)-mediated damage, partly by inhibiting superoxide anion (O2-.) generation and PMN adherence to the coronary artery endothelium. This study tests the hypothesis that the antineutrophil effects of ADO are mediated by A2-receptor activation. Isolated canine PMN were activated by 100 nM platelet-activating factor (PAF). Compared with untreated activated PMN (100%), ADO attenuated O2-. production (46 +/- 9% of activated PMN), which was mimicked by the A2 agonist CGS-21680 (50 +/- 6% of activated PMN), unaltered by A1-selective antagonism with KW-3902 in the presence of ADO (40 +/- 7%), but blocked by combined A1-A2 blockade with 8-p-sulfophenyl theophylline (8-SPT, 94 +/- 14%). ADO reduced adherence of fluorescent PMN to endothelial surfaces of isolated canine coronary artery segments from 174 +/- 12 to 29 +/- 9/mm2 (P < 0.01), which was unaltered by A1 antagonism (35 +/- 7/mm2) but was reversed by 8-SPT (150 +/- 11/mm2). CGS-21680 inhibited adherence (48 +/- 8/mm2), comparable to that of ADO. Canine coronary artery rings were incubated with activated PMN to induce injury to the endothelium. The concentration of drug required to elicit 50% of maximal relaxation (-log M) derived from dose-relaxation responses to acetylcholine in PMN-damaged rings was significantly (P < 0.05) less in ADO-treated (6.88 +/- 0.08) and CGS-21680-treated (7.12 +/- 0.09) rings than untreated rings (6.54 +/- 0.10). This protection with ADO was reversed by inclusion of 8-SPT (6.49 +/- 0.12) but not KW-3902 (6.96 +/- 0.07). We conclude that ADO reduces PMN-induced coronary endothelial injury by A2-receptor-mediated inhibition of O2-. generation and adherence.