Cultured hippocampal neurons from neonatal rats were used to investigate the effect of adenosine on the release of glutamate. Spontaneous tetrodotoxin-resistant miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) through AMPA receptor channels were recorded by means of the whole-cell patch-clamp technique. Adenosine (50 microM) reversibly reduced the frequency of mEPSCs by approximately 50-60%, but did not change their amplitudes. The protein kinase A inhibitor Rp-cyclic adenosine monophosphate (100-150 microM) did not block the adenosine-dependent reduction of the mEPSC frequency, showing that adenosine is not depressing synaptic transmission via a protein kinase A (PKA)-dependent mechanism. The D1 dopamine agonist SKF-38393 (250 microM), forskolin (5 microM) and 8Br-cAMP (2 mM), known to activate the cAMP/PKA-dependent signalling pathway, all enhanced the mEPSC frequency. A subsequent application of adenosine (50 microM) strongly reduced the potentiation produced by any one of these three drugs. It also reversed protein kinase C (PKC)-dependent stimulation of glutamate release induced by phorbol myristate acetate (100 nM). Taken together, adenosine not only inhibits the spontaneous release of glutamate independently of protein kinases A and C but also reverses the enhancement of exocytosis produced by protein kinases A and C activators.