ATP as a cotransmitter in the autonomic nervous system

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The role of adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) as a major intracellular energy source is well-established. In addition, ATP and related nucleotides have widespread extracellular actions via the ionotropic P2X receptors (ligand-gated cation channels) and metabotropic P2Y receptors (G protein-coupled receptors). Numerous experimental techniques, including myography, electrophysiology and biochemical measurement of neurotransmitter release, have been used to show that ATP has two major roles as an excitatory cotransmitter from autonomic nerves; 1) It is costored with noradrenaline in synaptic vesicles in postganglionic sympathetic nerves innervating smooth muscle preparations, such as the vas deferens and most arteries. When coreleased with noradrenaline, ATP acts at postjunctional P2X1 receptors to evoke depolarisation, Ca2+ influx, Ca2+ sensitisation and contraction. 2) ATP is also coreleased with acetylcholine from postganglionic parasympathetic nerves innervating the urinary bladder and again acts at postjunctional P2X1 receptors, and possibly also a P2X1+4 heteromer, to elicit smooth muscle contraction. In both systems the neurotransmitter actions of ATP are terminated by dephosphorylation by extracellular, membrane-bound enzymes and soluble nucleotidases released from postganglionic nerves. There are indications of an increased contribution of ATP to control of blood pressure in hypertension, but further research is needed to clarify this possibility. More promising is the upregulation of P2X receptors in dysfunctional bladder, including interstitial cystitis, idiopathic detrusor instability and overactive bladder syndrome. Consequently, these roles of ATP are of great therapeutic interest and are increasingly being targeted by pharmaceutical companies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-15
Number of pages14
JournalAutonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical
Early online date25 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


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


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