Adenosine Receptors in Health and Disease

Volume 193 of the series Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology pp 399-441


Adenosine Receptors and Cancer

  • P. FishmanAffiliated withCan-Fite BioPharma Email author 
  • , S. Bar-YehudaAffiliated withCan-Fite BioPharma
  • , M. SynowitzAffiliated withDepartment of Neurosurgery, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin
  • , J.D.  PowellAffiliated withThe Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • , K.N. KlotzAffiliated withUniversität Würzburg, Institut für Pharmakologie und Toxikologie
  • , S. GessiAffiliated withDepartment of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Ferrara
  • , P.A. BoreaAffiliated withDepartment of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Ferrara

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The A1, A2A, A2B and A3 G-protein-coupled cell surface adenosine receptors (ARs) are found to be upregulated in various tumor cells. Activation of the receptors by specific ligands, agonists or antagonists, modulates tumor growth via a range of signaling pathways. The A1AR was found to play a role in preventing the development of glioblastomas. This antitumor effect of the A1AR is mediated via tumor-associated microglial cells. Activation of the A2AAR results in inhibition of the immune response to tumors via suppression of T regulatory cell function and inhibition of natural killer cell cytotoxicity and tumor-specific CD4+/CD8+ activity. Therefore, it is suggested that pharmacological inhibition of A2AAR activation by specific antagonists may enhance immunotherapeutics in cancer therapy. Activation of the A2BAR plays a role in the development of tumors via upregulation of the expression levels of angiogenic factors in microvascular endothelial cells. In contrast, it was evident that activation of A2BAR results in inhibition of ERK1/2 phosphorylation and MAP kinase activity, which are involved in tumor cell growth signals. Finally, A3AR was found to be highly expressed in tumor cells and tissues while low expression levels were noted in normal cells or adjacent tissue. Receptor expression in the tumor tissues was directly correlated to disease severity. The high receptor expression in the tumors was attributed to overexpression of NF-κB, known to act as an A3AR transcription factor. Interestingly, high A3AR expression levels were found in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) derived from tumor-bearing animals and cancer patients, reflecting receptor status in the tumors. A3AR agonists were found to induce tumor growth inhibition, both in vitro and in vivo, via modulation of the Wnt and the NF-κB signaling pathways. Taken together, A3ARs that are abundantly expressed in tumor cells may be targeted by specific A3AR agonists, leading to tumor growth inhibition. The unique characteristics of these A3AR agonists make them attractive as drug candidates.


A1 adenosine receptor A2A adenosine receptor A2B adenosine receptor A3 adenosine receptor Expression Tumor growth Agonists Antagonists