Hypoxaemia elicits adrenergic suppression of fetal glucose-stimulated hyperinsulinaemia. We postulate that this effect is mediated by catecholamines, exclusively, from fetal adrenal chromaffin cells. To investigate this hypothesis, square-wave hyperglycaemic clamp studies were performed under normoxaemic (26 ± 0.9 mmHg) and hypoxaemic (14 ± 0.3 mmHg) steady-state conditions in near-term fetal sheep that had undergone either surgical sham or bilateral adrenal demedullation (AD), values mentioned are ± SEM. Under normoxaemic conditions plasma noradrenaline concentrations were lower in AD fetuses than in sham-operated fetuses (457 ± 122 versus 1073 ± 103 pg ml-1, P < 0.05). Plasma insulin concentrations were not different at euglycaemia between shams (0.46 ± 0.07 ng ml-1) and AD fetuses (0.44 ± 0.04 ng ml-1) and increased (P < 0.05) with hyperglycaemia in both groups although to a lesser extent in AD fetuses (0.94 ± 0.19 ng ml-1) compared to shams (1.31 ± 0.15 ng ml-1; P < 0.05). Hypoxaemia increased plasma adrenaline (26-fold) and noradrenaline (5-fold) in shams but elicited no change in AD fetuses. Under hypoxaemic conditions, euglycaemic plasma insulin concentrations were reduced (P < 0.05) in both sham and AD fetuses to 0.30 ± 0.05 ng ml-1 and 0.27 ± 0.01 ng ml-1 respectively, and the insulin response to hyperglycaemia was abolished in shams but not affected in AD fetuses (0.33 ± 0.06 versus 0.73 ± 0.02 ng ml-1, P < 0.05). Hypoxaemia also induced hyperlactacaemia and hypocarbia to a greater extent in shams than in AD fetuses, indicating that catecholamines potentiate reductions in oxidative metabolism independently of insulin. These findings demonstrate that the fetal adrenal chromaffin cells are the source for acute hypoxaemia-induced elevations in fetal plasma catecholamines and suppression of glucose-stimulated hyperinsulinaemia, but other factors reduce plasma insulin at euglycaemia.
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