ATP as a cotransmitter in sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves - another Burnstock legacy

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Geoff Burnstock created an outstanding scientific legacy that includes identification of adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the gut, the discovery and characterisation of a large family of purine and uridine nucleotide-sensitive ionotropic P2X and metabotropic P2Y receptors and the demonstration that ATP is as an excitatory cotransmitter in autonomic nerves. The evidence for cotransmission includes that: 1) ATP is costored with noradrenaline in synaptic vesicles in postganglionic sympathetic nerves innervating smooth muscle tissues, including the vas deferens and most arteries. 2) When coreleased with noradrenaline, ATP acts at postjunctional P2X1 receptors to elicit depolarisation, Ca2+ influx, Ca2+ sensitisation and contraction. 3) ATP is also coreleased with acetylcholine from postganglionic parasympathetic nerves innervating the urinary bladder, where it stimulates postjunctional P2X1 receptors, and a second, as yet unidentified site to evoke contraction of detrusor smooth muscle. In both systems membrane-bound ecto-enzymes and soluble nucleotidases released from postganglionic nerves dephosphorylate ATP and so terminate its neurotransmitter actions. Currently, the most promising potential area of therapeutic application relating to cotransmission is treatment of dysfunctional urinary bladder. This family of disorders is associated with the appearance of a purinergic component of neurogenic contractions. This component is an attractive target for drug development and targeting it may be a rewarding area of research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102860
Number of pages12
JournalAutonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical
Early online date28 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • ATP
  • nucleotidase
  • urinary bladder
  • vas deferens
  • parasympathetic
  • sympathetic
  • cotransmission


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