Inflammatory conditions are associated with the extracellular release of nucleotides, particularly ATP. In the extracellular compartment, ATP predominantly functions as a signalling molecule through the activation of purinergic P2 receptors. Metabotropic P2Y receptors are G-protein-coupled, whereas ionotropic P2X receptors are ATP-gated ion channels. Here we discuss how signalling events through P2 receptors alter the outcomes of inflammatory or infectious diseases. Recent studies implicate a role for P2X/P2Y signalling in mounting appropriate inflammatory responses critical for host defence against invading pathogens or tumours. Conversely, P2X/P2Y signalling can promote chronic inflammation during ischaemia and reperfusion injury, inflammatory bowel disease or acute and chronic diseases of the lungs. Although nucleotide signalling has been used clinically in patients before, research indicates an expanding field of opportunities for specifically targeting individual P2 receptors for the treatment of inflammatory or infectious diseases.