1. The hypothesis that ATP released by presynaptic stimulation is hydrolysed to adenosine and mediates prejunctional neuromuscular depression was tested at vertebrate neuromuscular junctions. Electrophysiological recordings of evoked acetylcholine (ACh) release and perineural ionic currents at motor nerve endings were made using the frog cutaneous pectoris nerve‐muscle preparation. Either tubocurarine or alpha‐bungarotoxin was used to block muscle contractions. 2. Either alpha,beta‐methylene ADP (which inhibits ecto‐5'nucleotidases and thus prevents the degradation of ATP to adenosine) or selective adenosine receptor antagonists (8‐cyclo‐pentyl alkyl xanthines) prevented the inhibitory effects of exogenous ATP on ACh release in response to low‐frequency nerve stimulation. These results confirm earlier findings that ATP must be hydrolysed to adenosine to inhibit ACh release. 3. The presence of alpha,beta‐methylene ADP completely prevented neuromuscular depression in response to repetitive high‐frequency nerve stimulation (0.5‐1 Hz). alpha,beta‐Methylene ADP had no effect on ACh secretion under conditions where ACh release is well maintained (low‐frequency stimulation, 0.05 Hz). 4. Selective adenosine receptor antagonists completely eliminated neuromuscular depression produced by repetitive high‐frequency nerve stimulation (1.0 Hz) but had no effect on ACh release at low frequencies of stimulation (0.05 Hz). 5. Exogenous adenosine deaminase (5 i.u. ml‐1), which degrades adenosine to its inactive nucleoside inosine, also eliminated neuromuscular depression but had no significant effect on ACh release at frequencies of nerve stimulation too low to produce prejunctional depression. 6. During maximal neuromuscular depression, the effects of exogenous adenosine or 2‐chloroadenosine, an adenosine agonist, were occluded. 7. The calcium‐sensitive component of perineurial recordings of motor nerve terminal currents did not change during depression or during application of adenosine receptor antagonists and adenosine deaminase, suggesting that neuromuscular depression in this species was not associated with changes in presynaptic Ca2+ currents. 8. These results suggest that, under the conditions of these experiments, endogenous ATP, after hydrolysis to adenosine, causes prejunctional neuromuscular depression. This inhibitory effect of endogenous adenosine occurs at a site distal to the locus of Ca2+ entry in the frog.
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