Plasma catecholamines: Effects of footshock level and hormonal modulators of memory storage

Richard McCarty, Paul E. Gold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Plasma levels of norepinephrine (NE) and epinephrine (EPI) were measured in male Sprague-Dawley rats before and at several times after training injections of agents known to enhance or to impair later retention performance for a one-trial inhibitory (passive) avoidance task. Two days before testing, each animal was surgically prepared with a chronic tail artery catheter that allows for repeated blood sampling in unhandled rats. Exposure to a single, intense training footshock (3.0 mA, 2.0 sec duration) resulted in an immediate but transient increase in plasma levels of EPI and to a lesser extent NE. Plasma levels of both catecholamines did not differ between unshocked controls and animals that received a weak training footshock (0.6 mA, 0.5 sec duration). An injection of EPI at a dose that enhances retention performance (0.1 mg/kg, sc) resulted in increments in plasma EPI levels of 0.8-1.9 ng/ml from 5 to 40 min after injection. An injection of EPI (0.5 mg/kg, sc) at a dose that produces retrograde amnesia resulted in increments in plasma EPI ranging from 3.7 to 4.5 ng/ml during the 40 min after injection. Plasma NE levels were not significantly altered following an EPI injection. A single injection of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH, 0.3 or 3.0 IU per rat) did not alter the plasma catecholamine responses to training with a weak footshock. Similarly, the synthetic ACTH analog, Organon 2766 (125 or 250 mg/Kg) did not affect plasma catecholamines in untrained (unshocked) rats. These results demonstrate that significant increments in plasma levels of NE and EPI occur shortly after inhibitory avoidance training. Furthermore, an injection of EPI that enhances retention of an inhibitory avoidance task mimics the magnitude, though not the temporal characteristics, of the endogenous adrenal medullary response to a training footshock. Other hormonal treatments (ACTH and Organon 2766) which enhance memory storage do not affect plasma levels of NE and EPI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-182
Number of pages15
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1981
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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