Trophic effects of purines in neurons and glial cells Academic Article uri icon

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  • In addition to their well known roles within cells, purine nucleotides such as adenosine 5' triphosphate (ATP) and guanosine 5' triphosphate (GTP), nucleosides such as adenosine and guanosine and bases, such as adenine and guanine and their metabolic products xanthine and hypoxanthine are released into the extracellular space where they act as intercellular signaling molecules. In the nervous system they mediate both immediate effects, such as neurotransmission, and trophic effects which induce changes in cell metabolism, structure and function and therefore have a longer time course. Some trophic effects of purines are mediated via purinergic cell surface receptors, whereas others require uptake of purines by the target cells. Purine nucleosides and nucleotides, especially guanosine, ATP and GTP stimulate incorporation of [3H]thymidine into DNA of astrocytes and microglia and concomitant mitosis in vitro. High concentrations of adenosine also induce apoptosis, through both activation of cell-surface A3 receptors and through a mechanism requiring uptake into the cells. Extracellular purines also stimulate the synthesis and release of protein trophic factors by astrocytes, including bFGF (basic fibroblast growth factor), nerve growth factor (NGF), neurotrophin-3, ciliary neurotrophic factor and S-100beta protein. In vivo infusion into brain of adenosine analogs stimulates reactive gliosis. Purine nucleosides and nucleotides also stimulate the differentiation and process outgrowth from various neurons including primary cultures of hippocampal neurons and pheochromocytoma cells. A tonic release of ATP from neurons, its hydrolysis by ecto-nucleotidases and subsequent re-uptake by axons appears crucial for normal axonal growth. Guanosine and GTP, through apparently different mechanisms, are also potent stimulators of axonal growth in vitro. In vivo the extracellular concentration of purines depends on a balance between the release of purines from cells and their re-uptake and extracellular metabolism. Purine nucleosides and nucleotides are released from neurons by exocytosis and from both neurons and glia by non-exocytotic mechanisms. Nucleosides are principally released through the equilibratory nucleoside transmembrane transporters whereas nucleotides may be transported through the ATP binding cassette family of proteins, including the multidrug resistance protein. The extracellular purine nucleotides are rapidly metabolized by ectonucleotidases. Adenosine is deaminated by adenosine deaminase (ADA) and guanosine is converted to guanine and deaminated by guanase. Nucleosides are also removed from the extracellular space into neurons and glia by transporter systems. Large quantities of purines, particularly guanosine and, to a lesser extent adenosine, are released extracellularly following ischemia or trauma. Thus purines are likely to exert trophic effects in vivo following trauma. The extracellular purine nucleotide GTP enhances the tonic release of adenine nucleotides, whereas the nucleoside guanosine stimulates tonic release of adenosine and its metabolic products. The trophic effects of guanosine and GTP may depend on this process. Guanosine is likely to be an important trophic effector in vivo because high concentrations remain extracellularly for up to a week after focal brain injury. Purine derivatives are now in clinical trials in humans as memory-enhancing agents in Alzheimer's disease. Two of these, propentofylline and AIT-082, are trophic effectors in animals, increasing production of neurotrophic factors in brain and spinal cord. Likely more clinical uses for purine derivatives will be found; purines interact at the level of signal-transduction pathways with other transmitters, for example, glutamate. They can beneficially modify the actions of these other transmitters.


  • Rathbone, Michel Piers
  • Middlemiss, Pamela J
  • Gysbers, John W
  • Andrew, Craig
  • Herman, Mary AR
  • Reed, Juta K
  • Ciccarelli, Renata
  • Di Iorio, Patrizia
  • Caciagli, Francesco

publication date

  • December 1999