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Peripheral and Central Effects of Circulating Catecholamines

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Physical challenges, emotional arousal, increased physical activity, or changes in the environment can evoke stress, requiring altered activity of visceral organs, glands, and smooth muscles. These alterations are necessary for the organism to function appropriately under these abnormal conditions and to restore homeostasis. These changes in activity comprise the “fight‐or‐flight” response and must occur rapidly or the organism may not survive. The rapid responses are mediated primarily via the catecholamines, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, secreted from the adrenal medulla. The catecholamine neurohormones interact with adrenergic receptors present on cell membranes of all visceral organs and smooth muscles, leading to activation of signaling pathways and consequent alterations in organ function and smooth muscle tone. During the “fight‐or‐flight response,” the rise in circulating epinephrine and norepinephrine from the adrenal medulla and norepinephrine secreted from sympathetic nerve terminals cause increased blood pressure and cardiac output, relaxation of bronchial, intestinal and many other smooth muscles, mydriasis, and metabolic changes that increase levels of blood glucose and free fatty acids. Circulating catecholamines can also alter memory via effects on afferent sensory nerves impacting central nervous system function. While these rapid responses may be necessary for survival, sustained elevation of circulating catecholamines for prolonged periods of time can also produce pathological conditions, such as cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure, hypertension, and posttraumatic stress disorder. In this review, we discuss the present knowledge of the effects of circulating catecholamines on peripheral organs and tissues, as well as on memory in the brain. © 2015 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 5:1‐15, 2015.

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Figure 1. Figure 1. The two efferent arms of the organism's response to mental or physical stress, exercise and/or changes in the environment.
Figure 2. Figure 2. The sources of circulating catecholamines.
Figure 3. Figure 3. Hyothetical mechanism by which circulating catecholamines affect memory in brain.

Figure 1. The two efferent arms of the organism's response to mental or physical stress, exercise and/or changes in the environment.

Figure 2. The sources of circulating catecholamines.

Figure 3. Hyothetical mechanism by which circulating catecholamines affect memory in brain.
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A. William Tank, Dona Lee Wong. Peripheral and Central Effects of Circulating Catecholamines. Compr Physiol 2014, 5: 1-15. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140007