Spatial and activity-dependent catecholamine release in rat adrenal medulla under native neuronal stimulation

Physiol Rep. 2016 Sep;4(17):e12898. doi: 10.14814/phy2.12898.


Neuroendocrine chromaffin cells of the adrenal medulla in rat receive excitatory synaptic input through anterior and posterior divisions of the sympathetic splanchnic nerve. Upon synaptic stimulation, the adrenal medulla releases the catecholamines, epinephrine, and norepinephrine into the suprarenal vein for circulation throughout the body. Under sympathetic tone, catecholamine release is modest. However, upon activation of the sympathoadrenal stress reflex, and increased splanchnic firing, adrenal catecholamine output increases dramatically. Moreover, specific stressors can preferentially increase release of either epinephrine (i.e., hypoglycemia) or norepinephrine (i.e., cold stress). The mechanism for this stressor-dependent segregated release of catecholamine species is not yet fully understood. We tested the hypothesis that stimulation of either division of the splanchnic selects for epinephrine over norepinephrine release. We introduce an ex vivo rat preparation that maintains native splanchnic innervation of the adrenal gland and we document experimental advantages and limitations of this preparation. We utilize fast scanning cyclic voltammetry to detect release of both epinephrine and norepinephrine from the adrenal medulla, and report that epinephrine and norepinephrine release are regulated spatially and in a frequency-dependent manner. We provide data to show that epinephrine is secreted preferentially from the periphery of the medulla and exhibits a higher threshold and steeper stimulus-secretion function than norepinephrine. Elevated stimulation of the whole nerve specifically enhances epinephrine release from the peripheral medulla. Our data further show that elimination of either division from stimulation greatly attenuated epinephrine release under elevated stimulation, while either division alone can largely support norepinephrine release.

Keywords: Adrenal medulla; catecholamine; stress; sympathetic.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Medulla / cytology
  • Adrenal Medulla / innervation*
  • Adrenal Medulla / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / metabolism*
  • Chromaffin Cells / metabolism
  • Electric Stimulation / methods*
  • Epinephrine / metabolism
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Splanchnic Nerves / metabolism
  • Splanchnic Nerves / physiology


  • Catecholamines
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine