Hypothalamic Paraventricular and Arcuate Nuclei Contribute to Elevated Sympathetic Nerve Activity in Pregnant Rats: Roles of Neuropeptide Y and α-Melanocyte–Stimulating Hormone

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Pregnancy increases sympathetic nerve activity (SNA), but the mechanisms are unknown. Here, we investigated the contributions of the hypothalamic paraventricular and arcuate nuclei in α-chloralose–anesthetized pregnant and nonpregnant rats. Baseline arterial pressure (AP) was lower, and heart rate (HR), lumbar sympathetic activity, and splanchnic SNA were higher in pregnant rats compared with nonpregnant rats. Inhibition of the paraventricular nucleus via bilateral muscimol nanoinjections decreased AP and HR more in pregnant rats than in nonpregnant rats and decreased lumbar SNA only in pregnant rats. Similarly, after arcuate muscimol nanoninjections, the decreases in AP, HR, and lumbar, renal, and splanchnic sympathetic nerve activities were greater in pregnant rats than in nonpregnant rats. Major arcuate neuronal groups that project to the paraventricular nucleus express inhibitory neuropeptide Y (NPY) and excitatory α-melanocyte–stimulating hormone. Inhibition of paraventricular melanocortin 3/4 receptors with SHU9119 also decreased AP, HR, and lumbar SNA in pregnant rats but not in nonpregnant rats. Conversely, paraventricular nucleus NPY expression was reduced in pregnant animals, and although blockade of paraventricular NPY Y1 receptors increased AP, HR, and lumbar sympathetic activity in nonpregnant rats, it had no effects in pregnant rats. Yet, the sympathoinhibitory, depressor, and bradycardic effects of paraventricular NPY nanoinjections were similar between groups. In conclusion, the paraventricular and arcuate nuclei contribute to increased basal SNA during pregnancy, likely due in part to decreased tonic NPY inhibition and increased tonic α-melanocyte–stimulating hormone excitation of presympathetic neurons in the paraventricular nucleus.

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