Fetal conditions associated with placental insufficiency and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) chronically elevate plasma norepinephrine (NE) concentrations. Our objective was to evaluate the effects of chronically elevated NE on insulin-stimulated glucose metabolism in normally grown, non-IUGR fetal sheep, which are independent of other IUGR-related reductions in nutrients and oxygen availability. After surgical placement of catheters, near-term fetuses received either a saline (control) or NE intravenous infusion with controlled euglycemia. In NE fetuses, plasma NE concentrations were 5.5-fold greater than controls, and fetal euglycemia was maintained with a maternal insulin infusion. Insulin secretion was blunted in NE fetuses during an intravenous glucose tolerance test. Weight-specific fluxes for glucose were measured during a euinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp (EEC) and a hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp (HEC). Plasma glucose and insulin concentrations were not different between groups within each clamp, but insulin concentrations increased 10-fold between the EEC and the HEC. During the EEC, rates of glucose uptake (umbilical uptake + exogenous infusion) and glucose utilization were 47% and 35% lower (P < 0.05) in NE fetuses compared with controls. During the HEC, rates of glucose uptake were 28% lower (P < 0.05) in NE fetuses than controls. Glucose production was undetectable in either group, and glucose oxidation was unaffected by the NE infusion. These findings indicate that chronic exposure to high plasma NE concentrations lowers rates of net glucose uptake in the fetus without affecting glucose oxidation rates or initiating endogenous glucose production. Lower fetal glucose uptake was independent of insulin, which indicates insulin resistance as a consequence of chronically elevated NE.
Keywords: adrenergic receptor; catecholamines; insulin secretion; insulin-stimulated glucose metabolism.