Catecholamines are a class of neurotransmitters involved in central nervous system autonomic control. Both acute and chronic hypoxia create alterations in ventilation and blood pressure via catecholamine release, although the mechanisms of these alterations are unknown. The enzymes tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT) catalyze the rate-limiting step in the catecholamine pathway and production of epinephrine, respectively. Both have been colocalized with Fos protein in metabolic mapping studies of the O2-chemosensory pathway of adult and early postnatal rat. Thus, catecholamines are putative neurotransmitters in a subset of second and higher order respiratory neurons. To characterize the effects of prenatal hypoxia on subsequent TH and PNMT gene and protein expression, pregnant rats were placed in moderate hypoxia (10% O2) from gestational d 18 until birth. Northern and Western analyses of dorsal (catecholaminergic/adrenergic cell group 2) and ventral (catecholaminergic/adrenergic cell group 1) medullary tissue of postnatal (P) age P0, P3, P7, P10, and P14 pups were then done to examine changes in TH and PNMT mRNA and protein compared with normoxia-reared controls. Compared with controls, pups exposed to maternal hypoxia during pregnancy had lower levels of TH mRNA and protein at birth in dorsal medulla and higher levels of TH mRNA the first postnatal week in the ventral medulla. Pups that had been hypoxic in utero showed significantly lower levels of PNMT protein during the second postnatal week in dorsal medulla than did controls. Prenatal hypoxia- induced changes in levels of enzymes responsible for catecholamine synthesis may later be manifest as developmental deficiencies in neuronal function. This may compromise responses to acute hypoxic challenges during early postnatal life and contribute to autonomic nervous system disorders of the newborn such as apnea and sudden infant death syndrome.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health