Catecholamines Induce Trained Immunity in Monocytes In Vitro and In Vivo

Circ Res. 2020 Jul 3;127(2):269-283. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.119.315800. Epub 2020 Apr 3.


Rationale: Exposure to high catecholamine levels is associated with inflammatory changes of myeloid cells and atherosclerosis, but the underlying mechanisms are only partly understood.

Objective: To investigate whether the proinflammatory effects of noradrenaline and adrenaline can, in part, be explained by the induction of an immunologic memory in innate immune cells, termed trained immunity.

Methods and results: In vitro, we exposed human primary monocytes to (nor)adrenaline for 24 hours, after which cells were rested and differentiated to macrophages over 5 days. After restimulation with lipopolysaccharide on day 6, (nor)adrenaline-exposed cells showed increased TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor-α) production. This coincided with an increase in glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation measured with Seahorse technology on day 6 before restimulation. Inhibition of the β-adrenoreceptor-cAMP signaling pathway prevented the induction of training. In vivo, we studied the functional, transcriptional, and epigenetic impact of peak-wise exposure to high catecholamine levels on monocytes isolated from pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma (PHEO) patients. In PHEO patients (n=10), the peripheral blood cell composition showed a myeloid bias and an increase of the inflammatory CD14++CD16+ (cluster of differentiation) intermediate monocyte subset compared with controls with essential hypertension (n=14). Ex vivo production of proinflammatory cytokines was higher in PHEO patients. These inflammatory changes persisted for 4 weeks after surgical removal of PHEO. Transcriptome analysis of circulating monocytes at baseline showed various differentially expressed genes in inflammatory pathways in PHEO patients; epigenetic profiling of the promoters of these genes suggests enrichment of the transcriptionally permissive chromatin mark H3K4me3 (trimethylation of lysine 4 on histone H3), indicative of in vivo training.

Conclusions: Catecholamines induce long-lasting proinflammatory changes in monocytes in vitro and in vivo, indicating trained immunity. Our data contribute to the understanding of pathways driving inflammatory changes in conditions characterized by high catecholamine levels and propose that trained immunity underlies the increased cardiovascular event rate in PHEO patients.

Keywords: catecholamines; epinephrine; inflammation; innate immune system; norepinephrine; pheochromocytoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / immunology*
  • Catecholamines / pharmacology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • GPI-Linked Proteins / genetics
  • GPI-Linked Proteins / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Histone Code
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors / genetics
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors / metabolism
  • Monocytes / drug effects
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Receptors, IgG / genetics
  • Receptors, IgG / metabolism
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Catecholamines
  • FCGR3B protein, human
  • GPI-Linked Proteins
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors
  • Receptors, IgG
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha