Adenosine promotes a concentration-dependent hydrolysis of 3H-glycogen newly synthesized from 3H-glucose by mouse cerebral cortical slices. The EC50 for this effect is 7 microM. Theophylline antagonizes the glycogenolysis induced by adenosine with an EC50 of 80 microM. The rank-order of potencies of adenosine agonists is adenosine 5'-cyclopropyl-carboxamide greater than 2-chloroadenosine much greater than N6-cyclohexyladenosine = adenosine, suggesting that adenosine promotes glycogenolysis via receptors of the A2 type. This contention is substantiated by the weak stereospecificity observed for the glycogenolytic action of D- and L-(phenylisopropyl)-adenosine. The glycogenolysis elicited by adenosine at 10 and 100 microM is inhibited by ouabain at 10 microM, a concentration of the cardiac glycoside not significantly affecting 3H-glycogen levels per se. Interestingly, the previously demonstrated glycogenolytic action of vasoactive intestinal peptide (Magistretti et al., 1981, 1984) and of norepinephrine (Quach et al., 1978) is also antagonized by ouabain. These results demonstrate the existence of a metabolic action of adenosine, which is sensitive to ouabain and appears to be mediated by A2 receptors. The concentrations at which adenosine promotes glycogenolysis are of the same order of magnitude as those reached extracellularly by the nucleoside during neuronal depolarization (Pull and McIlwain, 1972). This set of observations therefore supports the notion that adenosine plays a modulatory role in the coupling between neuronal activity and energy metabolism in the CNS.