The regulation of blood flow in the heart on a moment-to-moment basis is essential to meet changes in the oxygen demands of cardiac muscle. The signals that subserve this regulation are not all firmly established. Although the formation and release of adenosine by cardiac muscle during periods of hypoxia or regional ischemia in the heart are well known to produce regional vasodilation and salvage of at-risk myocardium, these extracellular actions of adenosine are believed to occur abluminally and thus do not explain the origin or predict the potent actions of intravascular adenosine. The notion that purines such as adenosine and adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) might be available to act in the lumen of the blood vessel has been proposed by the authors and others to help explain the regulation of blood flow in the heart in nonpathologic states. This article details the background and current understanding of the vascular actions of adenosine and ATP, defines the Nucleotide Axis Hypothesis, and reviews clinical studies in which its likely importance in the maintenance of blood flow in the heart has been investigated.

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