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Neuroscience. 2008 Jul 17;154(4):1639-47. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.04.068. Epub 2008 May 6.

Chronic intermittent hypoxia sensitizes acute hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal stress reactivity and Fos induction in the rat locus coeruleus in response to subsequent immobilization stress.

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Department of Pharmacology and Center for Biomedical Neuroscience, MC 7764, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, TX 78229-3900, USA.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with several pathophysiological conditions, including hypertension, obesity, insulin resistance, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) dysregulation, and other endocrine and metabolic disturbances comprising the "metabolic syndrome." Repeated episodes of hypoxia in OSA may represent a chronic intermittent stress, leading to HPA dysregulation. Alterations in HPA reactivity could then contribute to or exacerbate other pathophysiological processes. We showed previously that another metabolic stressor, chronic intermittent cold stress, enhanced noradrenergic facilitation of acute HPA stress reactivity. In this study, we investigated whether chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH), a rat model for the arterial hypoxemia that accompanies OSA, similarly sensitizes the HPA response to novel acute stress. Rats were exposed to CIH (alternating cycles of normoxia [3 min at 21% O(2)] and hypoxia [3 min at 10% O(2)], repeated continuously for 8 h/day during the light portion of the cycle for 7 days). On the day after the final CIH exposure, there were no differences in baseline plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), but the peak ACTH response to 30 min acute immobilization stress was greater in CIH-stressed rats than in controls. Induction of Fos expression by acute immobilization stress was comparable following CIH in several HPA-modulatory brain regions, including the paraventricular nucleus, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and amygdala. Fos induction was attenuated in lateral hypothalamus, an HPA-inhibitory region. By contrast, acute Fos induction was enhanced in noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus following CIH exposure. Thus, similar to chronic cold stress, CIH sensitized acute HPA and noradrenergic stress reactivity. Plasticity in the acute stress response is important for long-term adaptation, but may also contribute to pathophysiological conditions associated with states of chronic or repeated stress, such as OSA. Determining the neural mechanisms underlying these adaptations may help us better understand the etiology of such disorders, and inform the development of more effective treatments.

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