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Plasma corticosterone, epinephrine, and norepinephrine levels increase during administration of nitrous oxide in rats.

  • Al-Noori, Salwa1, 2
  • Cimpan, Andreas2
  • Maltzer, Zoe1
  • Kaiyala, Karl J1
  • Ramsay, Douglas S1
  • 1 a Department of Oral Health Sciences , University of Washington , Seattle , WA , USA.
  • 2 b Division of Biological Sciences, School of STEM , University of Washington , Bothell , WA , USA.
Published Article
Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Publication Date
Nov 16, 2017
DOI: 10.1080/10253890.2017.1402175
PMID: 29145764


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a gaseous drug with abuse potential. Despite its common clinical use, little is known about whether N2O administration activates the HPA axis and/or the sympathetic adrenomedullary system. The goal of this study was to determine whether 60% N2O alters plasma concentrations of corticosterone (CORT), epinephrine (EPI), and norepinephrine (NE) in male Long-Evans rats. A gas-tight swivel assembly in the lid of a gas administration chamber allowed the remote collection of blood samples from an indwelling jugular vein catheter at four time-points: baseline and at 30, 60, and 120 min during a two-hour administration of 60% N2O. Relative to baseline, plasma CORT (n = 9) was significantly elevated at all three time-points during N2O inhalation (mixed model analysis, p = .001) and plasma EPI and NE levels were each significantly elevated (n = 8, p ≤ .001) at the 30 min assessment. EPI then declined and did not differ from baseline at the 60 and 120 min assessments (p > .05) whereas NE remained elevated (120 min, p = .001). Administration of 60% N2O increases circulating CORT, EPI, and NE, supporting N2O as a physiological stressor. An N2O-induced increase in CORT is consistent with the observation that addictive drugs typically activate the HPA axis causing increased plasma levels of glucocorticoids. Allostatic models of drug addiction typically involve stress systems and the possible role of stress hormones in N2O-induced allostatic dysregulation is discussed.

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