Effects of neonatal handling on sympathoadrenal activity and body composition in adult male rats

James B. Young*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Neonatal handling permanently alters the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) response to stress. Because the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and adrenal medulla also participate in stress responses, the impact of daily handling between birth and weaning on SNS and adrenal medullary function was examined in adult rats using techniques of [3H]norepinephrine ([3H]NE) turnover and urinary catecholamine excretion. Handled animals exhibited a 23% reduction in [3H]NE turnover in heart and a 53% decrease in spleen. [3H]NE turnover in brown adipose tissue, stomach, and kidney did not differ between handled and nonhandled animals. In contrast, urinary epinephrine (Epi) excretion was significantly greater in handled rats in response to a 3-day fast than in nonhandled animals. Although body weight, weight gain in response to dietary enrichment with sucrose or lard, or body fat content did not differ in handled and nonhandled animals, handled rats displayed heavier abdominal fat depots than nonhandled animals, implying a difference in body fat distribution. Neonatal handling thus leads to decreased sympathetic activity within specific subdivisions of the SNS and, by contrast, to increased adrenal medullary responsiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R1745-R1752
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number5 48-5
StatePublished - 2000


  • Adrenal medulla
  • Body weight
  • Dietary carbohydrates
  • Dietary fat
  • Physiological adaptation
  • Psychology of handling
  • Sympathetic nervous system
  • Weight gain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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