Epinephrine administration increases neural impulses propagated along the vagus nerve: Role of peripheral beta-adrenergic receptors

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2006 Mar;85(2):116-24. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2005.08.013. Epub 2005 Oct 17.


A significant number of animal and human studies demonstrate that memories for new experiences are encoded more effectively under environmental or laboratory conditions which elevate peripheral concentrations of the hormone epinephrine and in turn, induce emotional arousal. Although this phenomenon has been replicated across several learning paradigms, understanding of how this arousal related hormone affects memory processing remains obscure because epinephrine does not freely enter into the central circulation to produce any direct effects on the brain. This study examined whether epinephrine's actions on the CNS may be mediated by the initial activation of peripheral vagal fibers that project to the brain. The vagus was selected as a candidate for this role since it is densely embedded with beta-adrenergic receptors and the peripheral endings of this nerve innervate a broad spectrum of sensory organs that are directly affected by epinephrine release. Electrophysiological recordings of cervical vagal activity was measured over 110 min in urethane-anesthetized Sprague-Dawley rats given saline, epinephrine (0.3 mg/kg), the peripherally acting beta-adrenergic antagonist sotalol (2.0 mg/kg), or a combination of sotalol followed 15 min later by an injection of epinephrine. Epinephrine produced a significant increase in vagal nerve firing 10 min post-injection (p < .05) relative to controls and neural impulses recorded from the vagus remained significantly elevated for the remaining 55 min collection period. The excitatory actions of epinephrine were not observed in groups given an identical dose of the hormone after peripheral beta-adrenergic receptor blockade with sotalol. These findings demonstrate that neural discharge in vagal afferent fibers is increased by elevations in peripheral concentrations of epinephrine and the significance of these findings in understanding how epinephrine modulates brain limbic structures to encode and store new information into memory is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Arousal / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Epinephrine / pharmacology*
  • Epinephrine / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / drug effects
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Limbic System / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / drug effects*
  • Sotalol / pharmacology
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects*
  • Vagus Nerve / drug effects*


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • Sotalol
  • Epinephrine