The common air pollutant ozone causes acute toxicity to human airways. In primary and transformed epithelial cells from all levels of human or rat airways, ozone levels relevant to air pollution (50-200 ppb) increased extracellular [ATP] within 7-30 min. A human bronchial epithelial cell line (16HBE14o-) that forms electrically resistant polarized monolayers had up to 10-fold greater apical than basolateral surface extracellular [ATP] within 7 min of ozone exposure. Increased extracellular [ATP] appeared due to ATP secretion or release because (1) inhibition of ectonucleotidase (cell surface enzyme(s) which degrade ATP) by ozone did not occur until >120 min of ozone exposure and (2) brefeldin A, a secretory inhibitor, eliminated elevation of extracellular [ATP] without affecting intracellular ATP. Extracellular ATP protected against ozone toxicity in a P2Y receptor-dependent manner as (1) removal of ATP and adenosine by apyrase and adenosine deaminase, respectively, potentiated ozone toxicity, (2) extracellular supplementation with ATP, a poorly hydrolyzable ATP analog ATPγS, or UTP inhibited apoptotic and necrotic ozone-mediated cell death, and (3) ATP-mediated protection was eliminated by P2 and P2Y receptor inhibitors suramin and Cibacron blue (reactive blue 2), respectively. The decline in glucose uptake caused by prolonged ozone exposure was prevented by supplemental extracellular ATP, an effect blocked by suramin. Further, Akt and ERK phosphorylation resulted from exposure to supplemental extracellular ATP. Thus, extracellularly released ATP signals to prevent ozone-induced death and supplementation with ATP or its analogs can augment protection, at least in part via Akt and /or ERK signaling pathways and their metabolic effects. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.