Respiratory variables of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) blood were monitored continuously in vivo using an extracorporeal circulation or in vitro using blood flowing in a semi- closed loop. The experiments were designed to assess the rapid effects of endogenous catecholamines on red blood cell (RBC) O2 and CO2 transport. The addition of catecholamines (nominal final blood concentrations were 250 nmol l-1 adrenaline and 20 nmol l-1 noradrenaline) caused activation of RBC Na+/H+ exchange both in vivo and in vitro as indicated by the reductions in whole-blood pH. In both experimental systems, the activation of Na+/H+ exchange was associated with a rapid reduction of blood PCO2, indicating a sudden net movement of plasma CO2 into the RBC. In vitro the initial reduction of blood PCO2 was followed by a pronounced elevation as a result of the titration of plasma HCO3- by H+ extruded from the RBC. Blood PO2 fell markedly in a transitory manner after the addition of catecholamines. The decreases in PO2 were probably caused by rapid increases in the affinity/capacity of haemoglobin for O2 which, in turn, caused O2 molecules to enter the RBC from the plasma. The results are discussed with reference to the role of circulating catecholamines in rapidly modifying blood O2 and CO2 transport in rainbow trout.

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