The endogenous nucleoside adenosine has profound tissue protective effects in situations of ischaemia or inflammation. Animal studies have shown that various drugs can activate this protective mechanism by interfering with the metabolism of adenosine. Translation of this concept to the clinical arena is hampered by the difficulties encountered in measuring the adenosine concentration, due to the rapid cellular uptake and degradation of adenosine, which continues unabated after blood sampling, and due to the metabolically active endothelial barrier for adenosine. In the current paper, we critically discuss the various methods to measure the adenosine concentration in humans in vivo. For the measurement of circulating adenosine, we conclude that the use of a pharmacological blocker solution (containing inhibitors of the enzymes ecto-5-nucleotidase, adenosine deaminase, and adenosine kinase, and of the equilibrative nucleoside transporter) and a purpose-built syringe which mixes the blood with this solution immediately at the tip of the needle, seems to be the most sensitive technique. However, for the measurement of adenosine concentrations in interstitial tissue, microdialysis is a suitable method, when used with an appropriate method to determine the recovery of adenosine across the semipermeable membrane to calculate the absolute adenosine concentration. Consistent use of these methods could help in the comparison of the various studies focussed on endogenous adenosine and could help to facilitate the use of drugs that modulate the adenosine concentration to protect tissues in the clinical arena.
Keywords: Adenosine, concentration, measurement, blocker solution, microdialysis