The adrenergic hormones norepinephrine (NE) and epinephrine (EPI) are critical regulators of mammalian cardiovascular physiology. NE and EPI mediate stress responses to enhance cardiovascular function, however dysregulation of adrenergic signaling leads to heart failure, congenital heart malformations, and sudden cardiac death. Adrenergic hormone-expressing cells were found in the early embryonic heart, and NE has been determined essential for embryonic cardiac development. Despite extensive work in adults, the regulatory roles and adrenergic targets of these hormones during embryonic cardiac development have not yet been fully determined. Prior transcriptomic studies from our lab showed that expression of signal transduction and metabolic genes in embryos lacking adrenergic hormones were by far the most affected categories of genes. Thus, we hypothesized that adrenergic hormones stimulate early calcium signaling, and are required for sufficient supply of energy substrates for the metabolic shift from anaerobic glycolysis to aerobic respiration during heart development. We utilized the dopamine ?-hydroxylase knock-out (Dbh-/-) mouse model to examine effects of adrenergic-deficiency on calcium signaling and metabolism during heart development. Using calcium-imaging and patch-clamp techniques, we found that calcium transients, voltage-gated calcium channels, and L-type calcium currents in adrenergic-deficient embryonic hearts were not affected relative to controls indicating adrenergic stimulation did not influence early calcium signaling. Metabolomics analyses of adrenergic-deficient hearts revealed disruption in glycolytic and pentose-phosphate pathways as well as reduced activity of respective regulatory enzymes, glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase and glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase indicating compromised glucose metabolism. Addition of pyruvate to embryonic hearts led to significant recovery of ATP concentrations and oxygen consumption rates, thereby supporting the hypothesis that adrenergic-deficient hearts are "starved" of metabolic substrates required for transitions from anaerobic glycolysis to aerobic metabolism. Overall, we showed that adrenergic hormones are not necessary for calcium signaling in the embryonic heart, but are essential regulators ensuring sufficient metabolic substrate and boosting enzymatic activities to fuel aerobic metabolism.


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Graduation Date





Ebert, Steven


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences









Release Date

August 2023

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)