The effects of adenosine on labeling of nucleolar preribosomal RNA, chromosomal plus nuclear sap hnRNA, and 4-5S RNA in explanted salivary gland cells of chironomus tentans has been studied. Of chromosomal transcripts it is the labeling of polymerase II-promoted RNA that is interrupted preferentially, but 4-5S RNA is influenced as well. The labeling of hnRNA and 4-5S RNA is diminished by 70-90 percent and 45-60 percent, repectively, while the incorporation into the nucleolar preribosomal RNA remains essentially unchanged. Labeled adenosine is transported efficiently across the plasma membrane and becomes phosphorylated to AMP, ADP, and ATP, of which ATP predominates at noninhibitory concentrations. The rate of the formation of [(3)H]AMP is, however, enhanced in response to the increase in external adenosine doses, whereas that of [(3)H]ATP increases only slowly or remains essentially unaltered. A rise in exogenous [(3)H] adenosine concentration to 200 muM yields a [(3)H]ATP/[(3)H]AMP ratio that is about one order of magnitude lower than that at 20 muM of the nucleoside. In parallel with this, there is a gradual repression of the labeling of chromosomal RNA. A similar treatment with guanosine produces only minor reduction in GTP/GMP quotient and does not influence significantly the labeling of any sizable RNA fraction. Thus the experimental data strongly indicate that the purine ribonucleoside adenosine, but not guanosine, gives rise to a markedly diminished triphosphate/monophosphate quotient simultaneously with a selective suppression of the labeling of chromosomal RNA, especially hnRNA, when applied in overdoses. The sequence of hnRNA events during inhibition by adenosine resembles the effect of the purine nucleoside analogue 5,6-dichloro-1-β-D- ribofuranosylbenzimidazole, indicating that the site of inhibitory action is at or close to the initiation of transcription.