The aim of the present study was to investigate the changes in electrocardiographic waveform and the release of catecholamines in the fetal lamb during nonacidemic fetal hypoxia. Chronically instrumented fetal lambs were subjected to reproducible hypoxia by reduction of the maternal placental blood flow. This was achieved by complete obstruction of the maternal aorta for 60 seconds. The fetuses were divided into an immature (119 to 126 days, n = 10) and a mature group (129 to 141 days, n = 6). Both groups of fetuses had a marked fall in oxygen tension (from 2.43 +/- 0.12 to 1.46 +/- 0.12 and 2.22 +/- 0.15 to 1.11 +/- 0.17 kilopascals [kPa] in the immature and mature groups, respectively) and in oxygen saturation (from 48% +/- 3% to 17% +/- 2% and 49% +/- 3% to 15% +/- 3%, respectively), but only modest changes occurred in pH and carbon dioxide tension. Basal fetal catecholamine concentrations did not differ between the groups but increased more significantly in the mature group with acute hypoxia. An increase in the T wave amplitude of the fetal electrocardiogram occurred in both groups during the latter part of occlusion with peak values shortly after removal of the occlusion. A linear correlation was found between the plasma epinephrine concentration and the T/QRS ratio in the mature group. Fetuses in both groups showed a marked bradycardia of similar magnitude during the occlusion but differed during the early phase of heart rate recovery by a slower acceleration of heart rate in the mature group. In connection with this marked bradycardia, the mature group showed a significant rise in mean arterial blood pressure at end of the occlusion. We suggest that fetal maturity has a significant influence no only on the release of catecholamines during nonacidemic hypoxia but also on the cardiovascular reaction pattern and changes in the ST waveform.