Purinergic signaling in liver disease

Byron P. Vaughn, Simon C. Robson, Maria Serena Longhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is essential for the myriad of metabolic processes upon which life is based and is known widely as the universal energy currency unit of intracellular biologic reactions. ATP, adenosine diphosphate, adenosine, as well as other purines and pyrimidines also serve as ubiquitous extracellular mediators which function through the activation of specific receptors (viz. P2 receptors for nucleotides and purinergic P1 receptors for adenosine). Extracellular nucleotides are rapidly converted to nucleosides, such as adenosine, by highly regulated plasma membrane ectonucleotidases that modulate many of the normal biological and metabolic processes in the liver - such as gluconeogenesis and insulin signaling. Under inflammatory conditions, as with ischemia reperfusion, sepsis or metabolic stress, ATP and other nucleotides can also act as 'damage-associated molecular patterns' causing inflammasome activation in innate immune cells and endothelium resulting in tissue damage. The phosphohydrolysis of ATP by ectonucleotidases, such as those of the CD39/ENTPD family, results in the generation of immune suppressive adenosine, which in turn markedly limits inflammatory processes. Experimental studies by others and our group have implicated purinergic signaling in experimental models of hepatic ischemia reperfusion and inflammation, transplant rejection, hepatic regeneration, steatohepatitis, fibrosis and cancer, amongst others. Expression of ectonucleotidases on sinusoidal endothelial, stellate or immune cells allows for homeostatic integration and linking of the control of vascular inflammatory and immune cell reactions in the liver. CD39 expression also identifies hepatic myeloid dendritic cells and efficiently distinguishes T-regulatory-type cells from other resting or activated T cells. Our evolving data strongly indicate that CD39 serves as a key 'molecular switch' and is an integral component of the suppressive machinery of myeloid, dendritic and T cells. Increased understanding of mechanisms of extracellular ATP scavenging and specifically conversion to nucleosides by ectonucleotidases of the CD39 family have also led to novel insights into the exquisite balance of nucleotide P2-receptor and adenosinergic P1-receptor signaling in inflammatory and hepatic diseases. Further, CD39 and other ectonucleotidases exhibit genetic polymorphisms in humans which alter levels of expression/function and are associated with predisposition to inflammatory and immune diseases, diabetes and vascular calcification, amongst other problems. Development of therapeutic strategies targeting purinergic signaling and ectonucleotidases offers promise for the management of disordered inflammation and aberrant immune reactivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)516-524
Number of pages9
JournalDigestive Diseases
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • CD39
  • CD73
  • Ectonucleotidases
  • Liver disease
  • P2 receptor
  • T lymphocytes


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