BACKGROUND: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use is associated with an elevated risk of gastrointestinal damage. As adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) may play a protective role in the small intestine, our objective was to determine the local effect of ATP on small intestinal permeability changes induced by short-term challenge of the NSAID indomethacin in healthy humans. METHODS: Mucosal permeability of the small intestine was assessed by the lactulose/rhamnose permeability test, that is, ingestion of a test drink containing 5 g lactulose and 0.5 g L-rhamnose followed by total urine collection for 5 h. Urinary excretion of lactulose and L-rhamnose was determined by fluorescent detection high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). Basal small intestinal permeability was assessed as a control condition. As a model of increased small intestinal permeability, two doses of indomethacin were ingested before ingestion of the test drink (75 mg and 50 mg at 10 h and 1 h before the test drink, respectively). Concomitantly with indomethacin ingestion, placebo or 30 mg/kg ATP was administered through a naso-intestinal tube. RESULTS: Median urinary lactulose/rhamnose ratio (g/g) in the control condition was 0.023 (interquartile range: 0.013-0.041). Compared with the control condition, urinary lactulose/rhamnose ratio after ingestion of indomethacin and administration of placebo was significantly increased [0.042 (0.028-0.076); P<0.01]. In contrast, urinary lactulose/rhamnose ratio after indomethacin ingestion plus ATP administration [0.027 (0.020-0.046)] was significantly lower than the lactulose/rhamnose ratio in the placebo condition (P<0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Topical ATP administration into the small intestine during short-term challenge of the NSAID indomethacin attenuates the NSAID-induced increase in small intestinal permeability in healthy humans.