The transynaptic splanchnic regulation of the adrenal medulla is not functional in the newborn rat. Thus, synthesis and release of adrenal catecholamines and peptides are assumed to be regulated by nonneuronal mechanisms at this stage. In a previous study we reported 4-5-fold increases in the levels of mRNA encoding tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH), and neuropeptide tyrosine (NPY) in the rat adrenal medulla immediately after birth. In the present in situ hybridization study the importance of postnatal oxygenation for the birth-related increase in expression of these mRNA, and of preproenkephalin (ENK) mRNA was investigated in rat pups. We report here that maternal hypoxia (11-13% O2) leads to 2-3-fold increases (p < 0.01) in fetal adrenal TH, DBH, and NPY mRNA levels on the day before birth. These mRNA then further increased 1-5-2-fold (p < 0.01) 12 h after birth in room air. Only ENK mRNA levels increased (5-fold; p < 0.01) when pups were born in 11-13% O2; however, still less (p < 0.01) than after birth in room air when it increased nine times (p < 0.01). Thus, the birth-related increases in TH, DBH, NPY, and ENK mRNA levels in the rat adrenal medulla are dependent on postnatal oxygenation.