A role for norepinephrine in stress-induced cognitive deficits: alpha-1-adrenoceptor mediation in the prefrontal cortex

Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Nov 1;46(9):1266-74. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(99)00138-9.


Background: Stress exacerbates many neuropsychiatric disorders associated with prefrontal cortical (PFC) dysfunction. Stress also impairs the working memory functions of the PFC. Although stress research has focused on dopaminergic mechanisms, stress also increases norepinephrine (NE) release in PFC, and intra-PFC infusions of NE alpha-1-adrenoceptor agonists impair working memory. The current study examined whether NE alpha-1-adrenoceptor actions in PFC contribute to stress-induced deficits in working memory performance.

Methods: Rats were treated with a pharmacological stressor, FG7142 (30 mg/kg) or vehicle 30 min before testing on a test of spatial working memory, delayed alternation. The alpha-1-adrenoceptor antagonist, urapidil (0.1 microgram/0.5 microL), or saline vehicle, was infused into the PFC 15 min before delayed alternation testing.

Results: As observed previously, FG7142 significantly impaired the accuracy of delayed alternation performance, and induced a perseverative pattern of responding consistent with PFC dysfunction. FG7142 also slowed motor response times. Infusion of urapidil into the PFC completely reversed the FG7142-induced impairment in delayed alternation performance, but did not alter the slowed motor responding.

Conclusions: These findings indicate that alpha-1-adrenoceptor stimulation in the PFC contributes to stress-induced impairments in PFC cognitive functions. These neurochemical actions may contribute to symptoms of working memory impairment, poor attention regulation, or disinhibited behaviors in neuropsychiatric disorders sensitive to stress exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Carbolines / toxicity*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects*
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism*
  • Piperazines / administration & dosage
  • Piperazines / pharmacology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1 / drug effects
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1 / metabolism*
  • Spatial Behavior / drug effects*
  • Stress, Psychological / chemically induced
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists
  • Carbolines
  • Piperazines
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1
  • FG 7142
  • urapidil
  • Norepinephrine