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J Cell Physiol. 2001 Jan;186(1):19-23.

Differential effect of adenosine on tumor and normal cell growth: focus on the A3 adenosine receptor.

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  • 1Laboratory of Clinical and Tumor Immunology, The Felsenstein Medical Research Center, Tel-Aviv University, Petach-Tikva, Israel.


Adenosine is an ubiquitous nucleoside present in all body cells. It is released from metabolically active or stressed cells and subsequently acts as a regulatory molecule through binding to specific A1, A2A, A2B and A3 cell surface receptors. The synthesis of agonists and antagonists to the adenosine receptors and their cloning enabled the exploration of their physiological functions. As nearly all cells express specific adenosine receptors, adenosine serves as a physiological regulator and acts as a cardioprotector, neuroprotector, chemoprotector, and as an immunomodulator. At the cellular level, activation of the receptors by adenosine initiates signal transduction mechanisms through G-protein associated receptors. Adenosine's unique characteristic is to differentially modulate normal and transformed cell growth, depending upon its extracellular concentration, the expression of adenosine cell surface receptors, and the physiological state of the target cell. Stimulation of cell proliferation following incubation with adenosine has been demonstrated in a variety of normal cells in the range of low micromolar concentrations, including mesangial and thymocyte cells, Swiss mouse 3T3 fibroblasts, and bone marrow cells. Induction of apoptosis in tumor or normal cells was shown at higher adenosine concentrations (>100 microM) such as in leukemia HL-60, lymphoma U-937, A431 epidermoid cells, and GH3 tumor pituitary cell lines. It was further noted that the A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR) plays a key role in the inhibitory and stimulatory growth activities of adenosine. Modulation of the A3AR was found to affect cell growth either positively or negatively depending on the concentration of the agonist, similar to the effect described for adenosine. At nanomolar concentrations, the A3AR agonists possess dual activity, i.e., antiproliferative activity toward tumor cells and stimulatory effect on bone marrow cells. In vivo, these agonists exerted anti-cancer effects, and when given in combination with chemotherapy, they enhanced the chemotherapeutic index and acted as chemoprotective agents. Taken together, activation of the A3AR, by minute concentrations of its natural ligand or synthetic agonists, may serve as a new approach for cancer therapy.

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