In fetal sheep, prolonged hypoxia (for 24 h) induced by a reduction in maternal uterine artery blood flow, increases insulin-like growth factor binding protein-1 (IGFBP-1) levels and decreases IGFBP-2 levels in the plasma, with corresponding changes in messenger RNA (mRNA) levels in the liver. Since IGFBP-1 synthesis in liver cells in vitro is stimulated by compounds that increase intracellular cAMP concentrations, we hypothesized that the increased IGFBP-1 synthesis during prolonged hypoxemia may be induced by circulating catecholamines, that are released during hypoxia, and that elevate fetal liver cAMP levels. Our aim was to determine the effect of 24-h catecholamine infusions on the synthesis and release of IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 in fetal sheep. Vascular catheters were implanted into fetuses at 110-115 days gestation in 14 pregnant ewes. After a 5-day recovery period, fetuses received a 24-h infusion of either norepinephrine (1 μg/kg · min, n = 5), epinephrine (0.25 μg/kg · min, n = 5), or vehicle (normal saline, n = 4). Fetal carotid arterial samples were collected at specified intervals throughout the infusion for the determination of blood glucose concentrations, plasma catecholamine concentrations by HPLC, insulin, and glucagon concentrations by RIA, and IGFBP levels by Western ligand blotting. After 24 h, the ewe and fetus were killed and selected fetal tissues (liver and kidney) were collected, and analyzed for IGFBP mRNA levels by northern blotting followed by laser densitometric quantification. Plasma catecholamine concentrations were increased in treated fetuses to levels that may be expected in fetuses subjected to prolonged hypoxia. In epinephrine and norepinephrine infused fetuses, blood glucose and plasma glucagon concentrations were increased significantly, whereas plasma insulin concentrations were decreased significantly. Norepinephrine and epinephrine infusions increased IGFBP-1 levels significantly (2- to 5-fold) in fetal plasma within 8-12 h, and the time course pattern of elevation of plasma IGFBP-1 levels was similar to that observed in prolonged hypoxia. After 24 h of either norepinephrine or epinephrine infusion, IGFBP-1 mRNA levels in the liver of fetuses were increased significantly (5- to 7-fold) compared to those of vehicle infused fetuses. IGFBP-2, -3, and -4 levels in fetal plasma were not affected by either infusion, nor were IGFBP-2 mRNA levels in fetal liver and kidney. Our results indicate for the first time that the infusion of cAMP generating compounds (catecholamines) induce the expression of IGFBP- 1 gene in the fetal liver in vivo, and that the increase in synthesis and release of IGFBP-1 during prolonged fetal hypoxia may result from a sustained elevation in circulating catecholamine concentrations.