American Journal of Respiratory Medicine

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 99–105 | Cite as

Targeting Adenosine Receptors

Novel Therapeutic Targets in Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Steuart Rorke
  • Stephen T. Holgate
Leading Article


Adenosine, an endogenous signaling nucleoside that modulates many physiological processes has been implicated in playing an ever increasingly important role in the pathogenesis of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). All cells contain adenosine and adenine nucleotides and the cellular production of adenosine is greatly enhanced under conditions of local hypoxia as may occur in inflammatory conditions such as asthma and COPD. In 1983, it was first reported that inhaled adenosine causes dose-related bronchoconstriction in patients with both allergic and non-allergic asthma but not in healthy volunteers. This hyperresponsiveness was also reported in patients with COPD, with those patients who smoked exhibiting a significantly greater response. This bronchoconstrictor effect of adenosine is orchestrated through the stimulation of specific cell membrane receptors and involves an important inflammatory cell, the mast cell.

There is substantial evidence which suggests that mast cell activation is central to this unique response to adenosine. Mast cell mediator release makes a significant contribution towards airflow obstruction and the consequent symptoms in patients with asthma. Over the last two decades, researchers have investigated the effect of mast cell inhibitors as well as mast cell mediator receptor antagonists and their role in attenuating the bronchoconstrictor response to inhaled adenosine 5′-monophosphate (AMP). Promising results have been shown using mast cell stabilizers, histamine H1 receptor antagonists, selective cysteinyl leukotriene-1 receptor antagonists and inhibitors of 5-lipoxygenase and cyclo-oxygenase. Through these findings, the mast cell has been recognized as being a critical inflammatory cell in the adenosine-induced response in patients with asthma and COPD.

To date, four subtypes (A1, A2A, A2B, A3) of adenosine receptors have been cloned each with a unique pattern of tissue distribution and signal transduction. Activation of these receptors has pro- and anti-inflammatory consequences making the development of agonists and/or antagonists at these receptor sites a novel approach in the treatment of patients with asthma and COPD.

This review highlights the importance of adenosine in the pathophysiology of asthma and COPD, the critical role of the mast cell and the potential to target the adenosine receptor subtype in patients with asthma and COPD. The complete characterization of these adenosine receptor subtypes in terms of their distribution in humans and the development of selective agonists and antagonists, holds the key to our complete understanding of the role of this important mediator in asthma and COPD.


Asthma Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Mast Cell Adenosine Receptor Nedocromil 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors have no potential conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the contents of this article and received no funding for its preparation.


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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Respiratory Cell and Molecular BiologyUniversity of Southampton School of Medicine, Level D (810), Centre Block, Southampton General HospitalSouthamptonUK

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