The brain immune system, which consists mainly of astrocytes, microglia and infiltrating immune cells, is quiescent normally, but it is activated in response to pathophysiological events such as ischemia, trauma, inflammation and infection. Adenosine is an endogenous purine nucleoside that is generated at sites that are subjected to these 'stressful' conditions. Adenosine interacts with specific G-protein-coupled receptors on astrocytes, microglia and infiltrating immune cells to regulate the function of the immune system in the brain. Although many of the effects of adenosine on immune-competent cells in the brain protect neuronal integrity, adenosine might also aggravate neuronal injury by promoting inflammatory processes. A more complete understanding of adenosine receptor function in the brain immune system should help develop novel therapeutic ways to treat brain disorders that are associated with a dysfunctional immune response.
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