Afferent and efferent components of the cardiovascular reflex responses to acute hypoxia in term fetal sheep

J Physiol. 1993 Feb;461:431-49. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1993.sp019521.


1. We studied the effects of acute isocapnic hypoxia on arterial and central venous pressures, carotid and femoral blood flows and heart rate in intact and carotid denervated fetal sheep between 118 and 125 days gestation, after pre-treatment with either saline, atropine or phentolamine. Electrocortical activity (ECoG) and the incidence of fetal breathing movements (FBM) were also compared between intact and carotid denervated fetuses. 2. There were no significant differences between intact and denervated fetuses in any variable measured during normoxia. Soon after the onset of hypoxia a marked bradycardia occurred in intact, but not in denervated fetuses. Femoral blood flow and femoral vascular resistance (perfusion pressure/femoral blood flow) increased in intact, but not in denervated fetuses. Carotid blood flow increased in both groups of fetuses during hypoxia, but carotid vascular resistance did not change. During hypoxia, the incidence of FBM and low-voltage ECoG was similarly reduced in both groups of fetuses. 3. Atropine produced a rise in fetal heart rate during the control period in intact but not in denervated fetuses. At the onset of hypoxia atropine prevented the initial bradycardia seen in intact fetuses. In denervated fetuses a further increase in heart rate occurred throughout the hypoxia. 4. All denervated fetuses treated with phentolamine died during the hypoxic challenge, but nine out of fourteen intact fetuses treated with phentolamine survived. 5. In intact fetuses which survived hypoxia after treatment with phentolamine, the increase in arterial blood pressure was smaller and the increase in femoral resistance did not occur. In these fetuses a rise in heart rate occurred in hypoxia. Carotid vascular resistance decreased during hypoxia after administration of phentolamine. 6. Our results indicate that the initial cardiovascular responses of the late gestation sheep fetus to hypoxia are reflex, and that the carotid chemoreceptors provide the afferent limb of this reflex. The bradycardia is mediated through a muscarinic pathway, as it is blocked by atropine. The femoral vasoconstriction is mediated through an alpha-adrenergic mechanism, mediated both neurally by a carotid chemoreflex and via catecholamines released directly from the adrenal medulla. Both these components are blocked by phentolamine. 7. The differences in survival between intact and denervated fetuses during hypoxia after phentolamine suggest that the carotid chemoreflex response to hypoxia involves mechanisms in addition to vagal efferents to the heart and alpha-adrenergic actions at peripheral blood vessels.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Carotid Sinus / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Fetal Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Heart Rate, Fetal / physiology
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Partial Pressure
  • Pregnancy
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Sheep
  • Vascular Resistance / physiology


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen