Methylxanthines, such as theophylline, have been used to treat cardiorespiratory disorders, whereas caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive agent in various soft drinks. Because of the worldwide use of these drugs and the recently synthesized xanthine derivatives, an intensive research on the cardiac actions of these substances is under progress. This review focuses on the molecular mechanisms involved in the actions of xanthine derivatives with special reference to their adenosine receptor antagonistic properties. The main basic and human studies on the action of xanthines on impulse initiation and conduction, as well as the electrophysiological and mechanical activity of the working myocardium will be overviewed. The potential beneficial and harmful actions of the methylxanthines will be discussed in light of the recent experimental and clinical findings. The pharmacological features and clinical observations with adenosine receptor subtype-specific xanthine antagonists are also the subject of this paper. Based on the adenosine receptor-antagonistic activity of these compounds, it can be raised that xanthine derivatives might inhibit the cardioprotective action of endogenous adenosine on various subtypes (A1, A2A, A2B and A3) of adenosine receptors. Adenosine is an important endogenous substance with crucial role in the regulation of cardiac function under physiological and pathological conditions (preconditioning, postconditioning, ischemia/ reperfusion injury). Recent clinical studies show that acute administration of caffeine or theophylline can inhibit various types of preconditioning in human subjects. There are no human studies, however, for the cardiovascular actions of long-term administration of these drugs. Upregulation of adenosine receptors and increased effectiveness of adenosine receptor-related cardiovascular functions have been observed after long-lasting treatment with methylxanthines. In addition, there are data indicating that blood adenosine level increases after long-term caffeine administration. Since the salutary actions (and also the adverse reactions) of a number of xanthine derivatives are repeatedly shown, the main goal is the development of novel structures that mimic the actions of the conventional methylxanthines as lead compounds, but their adenosine receptor subtype-specificity is higher, their water solubility is optimal, and the unwanted reactions are minimized.