1. Bronchoconstriction does not seem to be a stimulus for sympathoadrenal activation, as judged by venous plasma concentrations of noradrenaline, adrenaline or neuropeptide Y-like immunoreactivity. However, venous measurements have methodological drawbacks. In the present study arterial and mixed venous (pulmonary arterial) levels of these variables were determined before and after histamine-induced bronchoconstriction in non-medicated asthmatic subjects. In addition, noradrenaline kinetics in plasma (isotope dilution) and the pulmonary overflows of noradrenaline and neuropeptide Y-like immunoreactivity were determined.

2. Histamine inhalation induced bronchoconstriction; forced expiratory volume in 1 s decreased by 38.7% ± 4.1% (SE) and arterial Po2 by 3.0 ± 0.9 kPa. This acute bronchoconstriction induced significant elevations of arterial and mixed venous plasma noradrenaline from ≤1.18 nmol/l to ≥1.40 nmol/l. The clearance of NA from plasma increased marginally. Thus, the arterial plasma NA response was due to increased spillover of noradrenaline to plasma (from 1.80 ± 0.18 to 2.52 ± 0.36 mmol min−1/m2 at maximal bronchoconstriction, with a subsequent further increase). There were no elevations of adrenaline or neuropeptide Y-like immunoreactivity in arterial plasma.

3. No sympathetic activation could be demonstrated in the lungs (pulmonary noradrenaline or neuropeptide Y-like immunoreactivity overflow), and no alterations in pulmonary vascular resistance or cardiac output were observed. Neither arterial nor mixed venous plasma concentrations of adrenaline were influenced by bronchoconstriction.

4. Acute bronchoconstriction thus leads to peripheral sympathetic activation (possibly due to the increased work of breathing) which does not involve the lungs. Adrenaline is not secreted in response to induced bronchoconstriction, and thus is of no functional importance as a counter-regulatory hormone in this situation.

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