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Am J Physiol. 1975 Feb;228(2):337-44. doi: 10.1152/ajplegacy.1975.228.2.337.

Development of autonomic control of fetal circulation.

The American journal of physiology

B Nuwayhid, C R Brinkman, C Su, J A Bevan, N S Assali

PMID: 235216 DOI: 10.1152/ajplegacy.1975.228.2.337


Development of parasympathetic and sympathetic reflexes controlling heart rate, vascular pressures, and blood flows was investigated in fetal lambs weighing 300-5,800 g (65-165 days' gestation). Cardiovascular responses to veratridine injections, atrial stretching, bilateral cervical vagotomy, and cholinergic blockade with atropine were used to test parasympathetic activities. Responses to propranolol and phenoxybenzamine were used to test beta- and alpha-adrenergic activities. Autonomic ganglionic blockade and stimulation provided additional information on both cholinergic and adrenergic systems. Fetal responses to various tests were compared to those of the mother. Results show: a) little parasympathetic tone on resting heart rate and other circulatory functions exists prior to fetal maturity; b) despite the feeble resting tone, the parasympathetic system is capable of exerting significant control when stimulated in both premature and mature fetuses, the capability increases as fetus approaches term; c) alpha- and beta-adrenergic tone in control of resting heart rate and peripheral circulation exists in early fetal life and increases as the fetus reaches maturity, and both adrenergic receptors respond strongly to stimuli in immature, premature, and mature fetuses; d) in immature fetuses, veratridine does not elicit a vagally mediated reflex; instead, it produces a centrally mediated alpha- and beta-adrenergic stimulation; e) the fetal cardiovascular response to any given test is dampened by the existence of the various vascular shunts, the umbilicoplacental circulation and, possibly, by incomplete maturation of vasomotor tone.

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