Catecholamine Alterations in Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Effect of Obesity

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Study Objectives:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) elicits increased sympathetic activity in adults and increased urinary catecholamines. Moreover, urinary catecholamine excretion is altered in obese patients. We hypothesized that morning urine catecholamine levels would be correlated with the severity of obstructive sleep apnea and degree of obesity in children.


Children referred to the pediatric sleep center for habitual snoring underwent overnight polysomnography, and the first morning voided urine sample was collected. Urinary concentrations of norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine were measured and corrected for creatinine levels. In a subset of children, blood samples were drawn and gene expression of catecholamine-relevant genes analyzed by quantitative real-time PCR.


One hundred fifty-nine children were recruited and completed the protocol. Children with OSA had significantly higher urinary norepinephrine and epinephrine levels, but not dopamine, compared to habitual snorers (norepinephrine: 40.1 ±24.7 ng/mg creatinine vs. 31.6±16.2 ng/mg creatinine, P<0.01; epinephrine: 6.4±10.5 ng/mg vs. 4.5±0.5 ng/mg, P<0.01). There was a positive correlation between norepinephrine and epinephrine values and polysomnographic indices, but no effect of obesity on catecholamine levels. In addition, expression of several of the major genes involved in synthesis and transport of catecholamines, as well as in selected receptors were compatible with increased bioavailability of catecholamines.


In children with OSA, morning urinary norepinephrine and epinephrine levels are significantly higher than those without OSA, and correlate with the severity of the disease. Gene expression patterns are in agreement with such findings. Urine catecholamine levels do not appear to be influenced by the presence of obesity Thus, altered sympathetic activity in OSA patients appears to occur independently of the presence of obesity.

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