Platelet aggregation and secretion are associated with a rise in intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i). Adenosine has been postulated as an endogenous inhibitor of platelet aggregation. The antiaggregatory effects of adenosine are related to activation of adenylate cyclase. We studied the effect of adenosine on the rise in [Ca2+]i and platelet aggregation produced by thrombin. Human platelets were obtained from dextrose/citrate-treated plasma. [Ca2+]i was determined by fluorescence-dye techniques (fura-2). Adenosine inhibited the slope of the first phase of aggregation and the rise in [Ca2+]i produced by thrombin, in a dose-dependent manner. The dose that produced 50% inhibition of both aggregation and the rise in [Ca2+]i was approximately 500 nM. The effects of adenosine on [Ca2+]i were shared by its stable analogs, 5'-N-ethylcarboxamidoadenosine being approximately 10-fold more potent than (-)N6-phenylisopropyladenosine, suggesting that these effects were mediated through adenosine A2 receptors. Furthermore, caffeine antagonized the inhibitory effects of adenosine on platelet aggregation and [Ca2+]i. The effects of adenosine on [Ca2+]i appear to be mediated through a rise in intracellular cAMP, because they were prevented by the adenylate cyclase inhibitor 2',5'-dideoxyadenosine (1 mM) and were potentiated by phosphodiesterase inhibition with papaverine (1 microM). Adenosine also inhibits the rise in [Ca2+]i produced by thrombin in a calcium-free medium, suggesting that adenosine inhibits both calcium influx and the release of calcium from intracellular stores.