The human sympathochromaffin system

S. D. Shah, T. F. Tse, W. E. Clutter, P. E. Cryer

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59 Scopus citations


Hypoglycemia stimulates adrenomedullary epinephrine secretion; standing stimulates sympathetic neural norepinephrine release. In 5 bilaterally adrenalectomized persons plasma epinephrine, measured with a sensitive single-isotope derivative assay, rose from 15 ± 2 to 35 ± 7 pg/ml (P < 0.02) during hypoglycemia but did not increase during standing. In contrast, plasma norepinephrine rose during standing but not during hypoglycemia. Thus, in humans 1) extra-adrenal epinephrine secretion is regulated and derived from innervated cells other than sympathetic postganglionic neurons; 2) because the plasma levels of epinephrine in adrenalectomized individuals even in response to a potent stimulus of hypoglycemia are below physiological thresholds, any biological actions of extra-adrenal epinephrine in adults must be paracrine rather than endocrine in nature; 3) hypoglycemia does not appear to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. In view of these findings, we propose that extra-CNS catecholamine-producing tissues be termed the sympathochromaffin system consisting of 2 components: 1) the sympathetic nervous system that releases the neurotransmitter norepinephrine from its postganglionic neurons, and 2) the chromaffin tissues, including the adrenal medullae, that contain cells that secrete epinephrine, norepinephrine, or dopamine. The plasma epinephrine concentration is a valid measure of its chromaffin tissue (predominantly adrenomedullary) secretion, whereas the plasma norepinephrine concentration is an index of sympathetic neuronal activity under some but not all conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E380-E384
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1984


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