The pattern of urinary catecholamine excretion in fasting differs in pregnant and nonpregnant rats, which suggests that the sympathoadrenal response to fasting is altered by pregnancy. In fasting nonpregnant animals, urinary norepinephrine (NE) excretion decreases and epinephrine (E) excretion remains unchanged, whereas the excretion of both catecholamines rises significantly with refeeding. In contrast, fasting third-trimester pregnant rats exhibit a 420% increase in urinary E and a 345% increase in urinary NE, elevations which fall with refeeding. Specific evaluation of sympathoadrenal activity in fasting pregnant rats reveals stimulation of the adrenal medulla and suppression of sympathetic nerves. In fasting third-trimester rats the adrenal content of E is 37% lower in innervated adrenals as compared with contralateral denervated glands, which indicates the presence of neurally-mediated adrenal medullary activation. Adrenalectomy completely abolishes the fasting-induced rise in urinary E and NE in pregnant rats. Studies with 2-deoxy-D-glucose suggest that stimulation of the adrenal medulla results from hypoglycemia, which is present after 3 d of fasting in pregnant rats (plasma glucose 36.7 mg/dl). Sympathetic nervous system activity, as measured by [3H]NE turnover in the heart, decreases in fasting pregnant rats despite hypoglycemia, a response similar to that seen in fasting nonpregnant animals where plasma glucose in maintained above 50 mg/dl. The calculated NE turnover rate is 44% lower in 2-d fasted pregnant rats than in fed pregnant animals (17.6 ± 1.3 vs. 31.3 ± 1.8 ng NE/heart per h, respectively). Thus adrenal medullary and sympathetic nervous system responses in fasting pregnant rats appear to be dissociated, which suggests that diet-induced changes in sympathetic activity and stimulation of the adrenal medulla by hypoglycemia may be independently regulated.
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