Purine nucleosides protect injured neurons and stimulate neuronal regeneration by intracellular and membrane receptor-mediated mechanisms

Patrizia Di Iorio, Francesco Caciagli, Patricia Giuliani, Patrizia Ballerini, Renata Ciccarelli, Oded Sperling, Esther Zoref-Shani, Larry Benowitz, Ugo Traversa, Giulia Bombi, Tulio Florio, Antonella Virgilio, Craig M. Andrew, Candice E. Crocker, Eva S. Werstiuk, Pamela J. Middlemiss, Michel P. Rathbone*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Like adenine-based purines, extracellular nonadenine-based purines have a multitude of trophic effects on the growth, differentiation, and survival of target cells. The nonadenine-based purines, which include guanosine, inosine, and GTP, apparently exert their trophic effects by interacting with both intercellular targets as well as those on the cell surface. Specifically, guanosine and inosine target the protein kinase N-kinase, in promoting remarkable nerve process extension, even in long tracts of the central nervous system after injury. In contrast, GTP may exert its effects via a cell surface receptor coupled to the release of calcium from internal stores. In other cases trophic effects may be mediated by the enhancement of release of adenine-based purines by guanosine. Additionally, evidence is presented for the existence of a high-affinity binding site for guanosine with receptor-like characteristics on the plasma membranes of astrocytes and brain tissue. This site may be G-protein-coupled and exert its effects through activation of the MAP kinase cascade. One effect apparently mediated through this mechanism is the production and release by astrocytes of trophic protein growth factors such as NGF and TGFβ. These have substantial neuroprotective effects. Additionally, this pathway is apparently involved in modulating the expression of P2Y1 and P2Y2 receptors in response to extracellular guanosine. Extracellular nonadenine-based purines can interact with other growth factors, but these interactions are not always synergistic. For example, combinations of guanosine and FGF are antagonistic and reduce the growth of microvascular cells in vitro. Some of the properties of the nonadenine-based purines likely derive from their unique intracellular metabolism in which conversion of guanine to xanthine is the final catabolic step. This step is catalyzed by guanase, the activity of which varies markedly in different brain regions, raising the possibility that guanine or guanosine are involved in neurotransmission. Together these data suggest several potentially useful pharmacological approaches involving nonadenine-based purines to modulate trophic effects in the central nervous system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-315
Number of pages13
JournalDrug Development Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2001


  • Apoptosis
  • Astrocytes
  • GTP
  • Guanosine
  • Inosine
  • MAP kinase
  • Microglia
  • Mitogenesis
  • Nerve regeneration


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