The sympathoadrenal responses to acute and chronic hypoxic exposure at 10.5 and 7.5% oxygen were determined in the rat. Cardiac norepinephrine (NE) turnover was used to assess sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity, and urinary excretion of epinephrine (E) was measured as an index of adrenal medullary activity. The responses of the adrenal medulla and SNS were distinct and dependent upon the degree and duration of hypoxic exposure. Chronic hypoxia at 10.5% oxygen increased cardiac NE turnover by 130% after 3, 7, and 14 d of hypoxic exposure. Urinary excretion of NE was similarly increased over this time interval, while urinary E excretion was marginally elevated. In contrast, acute exposure to moderate hypoxia at 10.5% oxygen was not associated with an increase in SNS activity; in fact, decreased SNS activity was suggested by diminished cardiac NE turnover and urinary NE excretion over the first 12 h of hypoxic exposure, and by a rebound increase in NE turnover after reexposure to normal oxygen tension. Adrenal medullary activity, on the other hand, increased substantially during acute exposure to moderate hypoxia (2-fold increase in urinary E excretion) and severe hypoxia (> 10-fold). In distinction to the lack of effect of acute hypoxic exposure (10.5% oxygen), the SNS was markedly stimulated during the first day of hypoxia exposure at 7.5% oxygen, an increase that was sustained throughout at least 7 d at 7.5% oxygen. These results demonstrate that chronic exposure to moderate and severe hypoxia increases the activity of the SNS and adrenal medulla, the effect being greater in severe hypoxic exposure. The response to acute hypoxic exposure is more complicated; during the first 12 h of exposure at 10.5% oxygen, the SNS is not stimulated and appears to be restrained, while adrenal medullary activity is enhanced. Acute exposure to a more severe degree of hypoxia (7.5% oxygen), however, is associated with stimulation of both the SNS and adrenal medulla.
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