Key points Carotid body dysfunction is recognized as a cause of hypertension in a number of cardiorespiratory diseases states and has therefore been identified as a potential therapeutic target. Purinergic transmission is an important element of the carotid body chemotransduction pathway. We show that inhibition of ecto‐5′‐nucleotidase (CD73) in vitro reduces carotid body basal discharge and responses to hypoxia and mitochondrial inhibition. Additionally, inhibition of CD73 in vivo decreased the hypoxic ventilatory response, reduced the hypoxia‐induced heart rate elevation and exaggerated the blood pressure decrease in response to hypoxia. Our data show CD73 to be a novel regulator of carotid body sensory function and therefore suggest that this enzyme may offer a new target for reducing carotid body activity in selected cardiovascular diseases. Abstract Augmented sensory neuronal activity from the carotid body (CB) has emerged as a principal cause of hypertension in a number of cardiovascular related pathologies, including obstructive sleep apnoea, heart failure and diabetes. Development of new targets and pharmacological treatment strategies aiming to reduce CB sensory activity may thus improve outcomes in these key patient cohorts. The present study investigated whether ecto‐5′‐nucleotidase (CD73), an enzyme that generates adenosine, is functionally important in modifying CB sensory activity and cardiovascular respiratory responses to hypoxia. Inhibition of CD73 by α,β‐methylene ADP (AOPCP) in the whole CB preparation in vitro reduced basal discharge frequency by 76 ± 5% and reduced sensory activity throughout graded hypoxia. AOPCP also significantly attenuated elevations in sensory activity evoked by mitochondrial inhibition. These effects were mimicked by antagonism of adenosine receptors with 8‐(p‐sulfophenyl) theophylline. Infusion of AOPCP in vivo significantly decreased the hypoxic ventilatory response (ΔV̇E control 74 ± 6%, ΔV̇E AOPCP 64 ± 5%, P < 0.05). AOPCP also modified cardiovascular responses to hypoxia, as indicated by reduced elevations in heart rate and exaggerated changes in femoral vascular conductance and mean arterial blood pressure. Thus we identify CD73 as a novel regulator of CB sensory activity. Future investigations are warranted to clarify whether inhibition of CD73 can effectively reduce CB activity in CB‐mediated cardiovascular pathology.