Pulmonary endothelial cell (EC) apoptosis has been implicated in the pathogenesis of emphysema. Cigarette smoke (CS) causes lung EC apoptosis and emphysema. In this study, we show that CS exposure increased lung tissue adenosine levels in mice, an effect associated with increased lung EC apoptosis and the development of emphysema. Adenosine has a protective effect against apoptosis via adenosine receptor-mediated signaling. However, sustained elevated adenosine increases alveolar cell apoptosis in adenosine deaminase-deficient mice. We established an in vitro model of sustained adenosine exposure by incubating lung EC with adenosine in the presence of an adenosine deaminase inhibitor, deoxycoformicin. We demonstrated that sustained adenosine exposure caused lung EC apoptosis via nucleoside transporter-facilitated intracellular adenosine uptake, subsequent activation of p38 and JNK in mitochondria, and ultimately mitochondrial defects and activation of the mitochondria-mediated intrinsic pathway of apoptosis. Our results suggest that sustained elevated adenosine may contribute to CS-induced lung EC apoptosis and emphysema. Our data also reconcile the paradoxical effects of adenosine on apoptosis, demonstrating that prolonged exposure causes apoptosis via nucleoside transporter-mediated intracellular adenosine signaling, whereas acute exposure protects against apoptosis via activation of adenosine receptors. Inhibition of adenosine uptake may become a new therapeutic target in treatment of CS-induced lung diseases.