Preterm infants frequently suffer cardiovascular compromise, with hypotension and/or low systemic blood flow, leading to tissue hypoxia-ischemia (HI). Many preterm infants respond inadequately to inotropic treatments using adrenergic agonists such as dobutamine (DB) or dopamine (DA). This may be because of altered cardiac adrenoceptor expression because of tissue HI or prolonged exposure to adrenergic agonists. We assessed the effects of severe HI with and without DB/DA treatment on cardiac adrenoceptor expression in preterm fetal sheep. Fetal sheep (93–95 days) exposed to sham surgery or severe HI induced by umbilical cord occlusion received intravenous DB or saline for 74 h (HI DB, HI, Sham DB, Sham). The HI groups were also compared with fetal sheep exposed to HI and DA. Fetal hearts were collected to determine -adrenoceptor numbers using [125I]-cyanopindolol binding and mRNA expression of 1-, 2-, 1A-, 2A-, or 2B-adrenoceptors. The HI group had increased -adrenoceptor numbers compared with all other groups in all four heart chambers (P 0.05). This increase in -adrenoceptor numbers in the HI group was significantly reduced by DB infusion in all four heart chambers, but DA infusion in the HI group only reduced -adrenoceptor numbers in the left atria and ventricle. DB alone did not affect -adrenoceptor numbers in the sham animals. Changes in 1-adrenoceptor mRNA levels trended to parallel the binding results. We conclude that HI upregulates preterm fetal cardiac -adrenoceptors, but prolonged exposure to adrenergic agonists downregulates adrenoceptors in the preterm heart exposed to HI and may underpin the frequent failure of inotropic therapy in preterm infants. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This is the first study, to our knowledge, on the effects of hypoxia-ischemia and adrenergic agonists on adrenoceptors in the preterm heart. In fetal sheep, we demonstrate that hypoxia-ischemia increases cardiac -adrenoceptor numbers. However, exposure to both hypoxia-ischemia and adrenergic agonists (dobutamine or dopamine) reduces the increase in -adrenoceptor numbers, which may underpin the inadequate response in human preterm infants to inotropic therapy using adrenergic agonists. Dobutamine alone does not affect the cardiac adrenoceptors in the sham animals.
- Cardiac adrenoceptors
- Preterm heart