Circulating catecholamines partially regulate T-wave morphology but not heart rate variability during repeated umbilical cord occlusions in fetal sheep

Christopher A. Lear, Michael J. Beacom, Michi Kasai, Jenny A. Westgate, Robert Galinsky, Shoichi Magawa, Etsuko Miyagi, Tomoaki Ikeda, Laura Bennet, Alistair J. Gunn

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Fetal heart rate (FHR) variability (FHRV) and ST segment morphology are potential clinical indices of fetal well-being during labor. β-Adrenergic stimulation by circulating catecholamines has been hypothesized to contribute to both FHRV and ST segment morphology during labor, but this has not been tested during brief repeated fetal hypoxemia that is characteristic of labor. Near-term fetal sheep (0.85 gestation) received propranolol (β-adrenergic blockade; n = 10) or saline (n = 7) 30 min before being exposed to three 2-min complete umbilical cord occlusions (UCOs) separated by 3-min reperfusions. T/QRS ratio was calculated throughout UCOs and reperfusion periods, and measures of FHRV (RMSSD, SDNN, and STV) were calculated between UCOs. During the baseline period, before the start of UCOs, propranolol was associated with reduced FHR, SDNN, and STV but did not affect RMSSD or T/QRS ratio. UCOs were associated with rapid FHR decelerations and increased T/QRS ratio; propranolol significantly reduced FHR during UCOs and was associated with a slower rise in T/QRS ratio during the first UCOs, without affecting the maximal rise or T/QRS ratio during the second and third UCO. Between UCOs propranolol reduced FHR and T/QRS ratio but did not affect any measure of FHRV. These data demonstrate that circulating catecholamines do not contribute to FHRV during labor-like hypoxemia. Furthermore, circulating catecholamines did not contribute to the major rise in T/QRS ratio during labor-like hypoxemia but may regulate T/QRS ratio between brief hypoxemia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R123-R131
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • fetus
  • heart rate variability
  • hypoxemia
  • labor
  • ST segment
  • T wave

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