Adenosine is well known to be released during cerebral metabolic stress and is believed to be neuroprotective. ATP release under similar circumstances has been much less studied. We have now used biosensors to measure and compare in real time the release of ATP and adenosine during in vitro ischaemia in hippocampal slices. ATP release only occurred following the anoxic depolarisation, whereas adenosine release was apparent almost immediately after the onset of ischaemia. ATP release required extracellular Ca2+. By contrast adenosine release was enhanced by removal of extracellular Ca2+, whilst TTX had no effect on either ATP release or adenosine release. Blockade of ionotropic glutamate receptors substantially enhanced ATP release, but had only a modest effect on adenosine release. Carbenoxolone, an inhibitor of gap junction hemichannels, also greatly enhanced ischaemic ATP release, but had little effect on adenosine release. The ecto-ATPase inhibitor ARL 67156, whilst modestly enhancing the ATP signal detected during ischaemia, had no effect on adenosine release. Adenosine release during ischaemia was reduced by pre-treament with homosysteine thiolactone suggesting an intracellular origin. Adenosine transport inhibitors did not inhibit adenosine release, but instead they caused a twofold increase of release. Our data suggest that ATP and adenosine release during ischaemia are for the most part independent processes with distinct underlying mechanisms. These two purines will consequently confer temporally distinct influences on neuronal and glial function in the ischaemic brain.