The present experiments tested the hypothesis that adenosine A2 receptors are involved in central reward function. Adenosine receptor agonists or antagonists were administered to animals that had been trained to self-stimulate in a rate-free brain stimulation reward (BSR) task that provides current thresholds as a measure of reward. The adenosine A(2A) receptor-selective agonists 2-p-(2-carboxyethyl)phenethylamino-5'-N-ethylcarboxamido adenosine hydrochloride (CGS 21680) (0.1-1.0 mg/kg) and 2-[(2-aminoethylamino)carbonylethyl phenylethylamino]-5'-N-ethylcarboxamido adenosine (APEC) (0.003-0.03 mg/kg) elevated reward thresholds without increasing response latencies, a measure of performance. Specifically, CGS 21680 had no effect on response latency, whereas APEC shortened latencies. Bilateral infusion of CGS 21680 (3, 10, and 30 ng/side), directly into the nucleus accumbens, elevated thresholds but shortened latencies. The highly selective A(2A) antagonist 8-(3-chlorostyryl)caffeine (0.01-10.0 mg/kg) and the A2-preferring antagonist 3,7-dimethyl-1-propargylxanthine (DMPX) (0.3-10.0 mg/kg) did not alter thresholds or latencies, but DMPX (1.0, 10.0 mg/kg) blocked the threshold-elevating effect of APEC (0.03 mg/kg). In another study, repeated administration of cocaine (eight cocaine injections of 15 mg/kg, i.p., administered over 9 hr) produced elevations in thresholds at 4, 8, and 12 hr after cocaine. DMPX (3 and 10 mg/kg), administered before both the 8 and 12 hr post-cocaine self-stimulation tests, reversed the threshold elevation produced by cocaine withdrawal. These results indicate that stimulating adenosine A(2A) receptors diminishes BSR without producing performance deficits, whereas blocking adenosine receptors reverses the reward impairment produced by cocaine withdrawal or by an A(2A) agonist. These findings indicate that adenosine, via A(2A) receptors, may inhibit central reward processes, particularly during the neuroadaptations associated with chronic drug-induced neuronal activation.