Chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH) augments physiological responses to low partial pressures of O2 in the arterial blood. Adrenal medullae from adult rats, however, are insensitive to direct effects of acute hypoxia. In the present study, we examined whether CIH induces hypoxic sensitivity in the adult rat adrenal medulla and, if so, by what mechanism(s). Experiments were performed on adult male rats exposed to CIH (15s of 5% O2 followed by 5 min of 21% O2; 9 episodes h-1; 8 h d-1; for 3 or 10 days) or to comparable, cumulative durations of continuous hypoxia (CH; 4 h of 7% O2 followed by 20 h of 21% O2 for 1 or 10 days). Noradrenaline (NA) and adrenaline (ADR) effluxes were monitored from ex vivo adrenal medullae. In adrenal medullae of rats exposed to CIH, acute hypoxia evoked robust NA and ADR effluxes, whereas these responses were absent in control rats or in those exposed to CH for 1 or 10 days. Hypercapnia (10% CO2; either acidic, pH 6.8, or isohydric, pH 7.4) was ineffective in eliciting catecholamine (CA) efflux from control, CIH or CH rats. Nicotine (100 μm) evoked NA and ADR effluxes in control rats, and this response was abolished in CIH but not in CH rats. Systemic administration of 2-deoxyglucose depleted ADR content in control rats, and CIH attenuated this response, indicating downregulation of neurally regulated CA secretion. Cytosolic and mitochondrial aconitase enzyme activities decreased in CIH adrenal medullae, suggesting increased generation of superoxide anions. Systemic administration of antioxidants reversed the effect of CIH on the adrenal medulla. Rats exposed to CIH exhibited increased blood pressures and elevated plasma CA, and antioxidants abolished these responses. These observations demonstrate that CIH induces hypoxic sensing in the adult rat adrenal medulla via mechanisms involving increased generation of superoxide anions and suggest that hypoxia-evoked CA efflux from the adrenal medulla contributes, in part, to elevated blood pressure and plasma CA.
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