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(R)-(–)-L-Epinephrine or (R)-(–)-L-adrenaline
Systematic (IUPAC) name
CAS number 51-43-4
ATC code A01AD01 B02BC09 C01CA24 R01AA14 R03AA01 S01EA01
PubChem 838
DrugBank APRD00450
ChemSpider 5611
Chemical data
Formula C9H13NO3 
Mol. mass 183.204 g/mol
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability Nil (oral)
Metabolism adrenergic synapse (MAO and COMT)
Half life 2 minutes
Excretion Urine
Therapeutic considerations
Pregnancy cat. A(AU) C(US)
Legal status Prescription Only (S4) (AU) POM (UK) -only (US)
Routes IV, IM, endotracheal, IC
 Yes check.svgY(what is this?)  (verify)

Epinephrine, widely called adrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter.[1] When produced in the body it increases heart rate, contracts blood vessels and dilates air passages and participates in the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system.[2] It is a catecholamine, a monoamine produced only by the adrenal glands from the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine.

The term adrenaline is derived from the Latin roots ad- and renes and literally means on the kidney, in reference to the adrenal gland's anatomic location on the kidney. The Greek roots epi- and nephros have similar meanings, and give rise to epinephrine. The term epinephrine is often shortened to epi in medical jargon.[3]

Adrenal extracts containing adrenaline were first obtained by Polish physiologist Napoleon Cybulski in 1895. These extracts, which he called "nadnerczyna", contained epinephrine and other catecholamines.[4] Japanese chemist Jokichi Takamine and his assistant Keizo Uenaka independently discovered adrenaline in 1900.[5][6] In 1901, Takamine successfully isolated and purified the hormone from the adrenal glands of sheep and oxen.[7] Adrenaline was first synthesized in the laboratory by Friedrich Stolz and Henry Drysdale Dakin, independently, in 1904.[6]


Actions in the body

As a hormone, epinephrine acts on nearly all body tissues. Its actions vary by tissue type and tissue expression of adrenergic receptors. For example, epinephrine causes smooth muscle relaxation in the airways, but causes contraction of the smooth muscle that lines most arterioles.

Epinephrine's various functions result from its binding to a variety of adrenergic receptors. Adrenaline is a nonselective agonist of all adrenergic receptors, including α₁, α₂ , β₁, β₂, and β₃ receptors.[8] Epinephrine's binding to these receptors triggers a number of metabolic changes. Binding to α-adrenergic receptors inhibits insulin secretion by the pancreas, stimulates glycogenolysis in the liver and muscle, and stimulates glycolysis in muscle.[9] β-Adrenergic receptor binding triggers glucagon secretion in the pancreas, increased adrenocorticotropic hormone (ATCH) secretion by the pituitary gland, and increased lipolysis by adipose tissue. Together these effects lead to increased blood glucose and fatty acids, providing substrates for energy production within cells throughout the body.[9]

In addition to these metabolic changes, epinephrine also leads to broad alterations throughout all organ systems.

Physiologic responses to epinephrine by organ
Organ Effects
Heart Increases heart rate
Lungs Increases respiratory rate
Nearly all tissues Vasoconstriction or vasodilatation
Liver Stimulates glycogenolysis
Triggers lipolysis Muscles contraction

Biosynthesis and regulation

The biosynthesis of adrenaline involves a series of enzymatic reactions.

Adrenaline is synthesized in the adrenal gland in an enzymatic pathway that converts the amino acid tyrosine into a series of intermediates and ultimately adrenaline. Tyrosine is first oxidized to L-DOPA, which is subsequently decarboxylated to give dopamine. Oxidation gives norepinephrine, which is methylated to give epinephrine.

Adrenaline is synthesized via methylation of the primary distal amine of noradrenaline by phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT) in the cytosol of adrenergic neurons and cells of the adrenal medulla (so-called chromaffin cells). PNMT is only found in the cytosol of cells of adrenal medullary cells. PNMT uses S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) as a cofactor to donate the methyl group to noradrenaline, creating adrenaline.[citation needed]

For noradrenaline to be acted upon by PNMT in the cytosol, it must first be shipped out of granules of the chromaffin cells. This may occur via the catecholamine-H+ exchanger VMAT1. VMAT1 is also responsible for transporting newly synthesized adrenaline from the cytosol back into chromaffin granules in preparation for release.[citation needed]

In liver cells, adrenaline binds to the β-Adrenergic receptor which changes conformation and helps Gs, a G protein, exchange GDP to GTP. This trimeric G protein dissociates to Gs alpha and Gs beta/gamma subunits. Gs alpha binds to adenyl cyclase thus converting ATP into Cyclic AMP. Cyclic AMP binds to the regulatory subunit of Protein Kinase A: Protein kinase A phosphorylates Phosphorylase Kinase. Meanwhile, Gs beta/gamma binds to the calcium channel and allows calcium ions to enter the cytoplasm. Calcium ions bind to calmodulin proteins, a protein present in all eukaryotic cells, which then binds to Phosphorylase Kinase and finishes its activation. Phosphorylase Kinase phosphorylates Phosphorylase which then phosphorylates glycogen and converts it to glucose-6-phosphate.[citation needed]



The major physiologic triggers of adrenaline release center upon stresses such as physical threat, excitement, noise, bright lights, and high ambient temperature. All of these stimuli are processed in the central nervous system, which is the sole point of control of adrenaline biosynthesis.[citation needed]

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and the sympathetic nervous system stimulate the synthesis of adrenaline precursors by enhancing the activity of tyrosine hydroxylase and dopamine-β-hydroxylase, two key enzymes involved in catecholamine synthesis.[citation needed] ACTH also stimulates the adrenal cortex to release cortisol, which increases the expression of PNMT in chromaffin cells, enhancing adrenaline synthesis. This is most often done in response to stress.[citation needed] The sympathetic nervous system, acting via splanchnic nerves to the adrenal medulla, stimulates the release of adrenaline. Acetylcholine released by preganglionic sympathetic fibers of these nerves acts on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, causing cell depolarization and an influx of calcium through voltage-gated calcium channels. Calcium triggers the exocytosis of chromaffin granules and thus the release of adrenaline (and noradrenaline) into the bloodstream.[citation needed]

Adrenaline (as with noradrenaline) does exert negative feedback to down-regulate its own synthesis at the presynaptic alpha-2 adrenergic receptor.[citation needed] Abnormally elevated levels of adrenaline can occur in a variety of conditions, such as surreptitious epinephrine administration, pheochromocytoma, and other tumors of the sympathetic ganglia.

Chemical synthesis

Epinephrine may be synthesized by the reaction of catechol with chloroacetyl chloride, followed by the reaction with methylamine to give the ketone, which is reduced to the desired hydroxy compound. The racemic mixture may be separated using tartaric acid.

Synthesis adrenaline.svg

Therapeutic use

Epinephrine ampule, 1 mg (Suprarenin)

Epinephrine is available in a variety of preparations for the management of several medical conditions. Aqueous preparations of adrenaline are obtained by use of hydrochloric acid or tartaric acid, since it undergoes oxidation in the absence of acid medium.[citation needed] Borate salt is used in ophthalmology.[citation needed]

Cardiac arrest

Adrenaline is used as a drug to treat cardiac arrest and other cardiac dysrhythmias resulting in diminished or absent cardiac output. Its actions are to increase peripheral resistance via α₁ receptor-dependent vasoconstriction and to increase cardiac output via its binding to β₁ receptors.

Shock and anaphylaxis

Due to its vasocontriction effects, adrenaline is the drug of choice for treating anaphylaxis. It is also useful in treating sepsis. Allergy patients undergoing immunotherapy may receive an adrenaline rinse before the allergen extract is administered, thus reducing the immune response to the administered allergen. It is also used as a bronchodilator for asthma if specific β₂ agonists are unavailable or ineffective.[10]

Because of various expression of α₁ or β₂ receptors, depending on the patient, administration of adrenaline may raise or lower blood pressure, depending whether or not the net increase or decrease in peripheral resistance can balance the positive inotropic and chronotropic effects of adrenaline on the heart, effects which respectively increase the contractility and rate of the heart.[citation needed]


Epinephrine is available in an autoinjector delivery system. EpiPens, Anapens and Twinjects all use epinephrine as their active ingredient. Twinjects contain a second dose of epinephrine in a separate syringe and needle delivery system contained within the body of the autoinjector. The larger Twinject dose (0.3mg) contains a third dose as well.

Though both EpiPen and Twinject are trademark names, common usage of the terms are drifting toward the generic context of any epinephrine autoinjector.[citation needed]


Racemic epinephrine has historically been used for the treatment of croup.[11][12] Racemic epinephrine is a 1:1 mixture of the dextrorotatory (D) and levorotatory (L) isomers of epinephrine.[13] The L form is the active component.[13] Racemic epinephrine works by stimulation of the α-adrenergic receptors in the airway with resultant mucosal vasoconstriction and decreased subglottic edema and by stimulation of the β-adrenergic receptors with resultant relaxation of the bronchial smooth muscle.[12]

Side effects and drug interactions

Adverse reactions to epinephrine include palpitations, tachycardia, arrhythmia, anxiety, headache, tremor, hypertension, and acute pulmonary edema.[14]

Use is contraindicated for patients on non-selective β-blockers because severe hypertension and even cerebral hemorrhage may result.[8] Although, use of Epinephrine during life threatening Anaphylaxis has no absolute contraindications.

Adrenaline junkie

Adrenaline junkie is a term used to describe somebody who appears to be addicted to epinephrine (endogenous) and such a person is sometimes described as getting a "high" from life. The term adrenaline junkie was popularly used in the 1991 movie Point Break to describe individuals who enjoyed dangerous activities (such as extreme sports) for the adrenaline "rush". Adrenaline junkies appear to favour stressful activities for the release of epinephrine as a stress response. Doing this may result in physical harm because of the potential danger. Whether or not the positive response is caused specifically by epinephrine is difficult to determine, as endorphins are also released during the fight-or-flight response to such activities.[15][16]


This chemical is widely referred to as adrenaline outside of the United States; however, its United States Approved Name and International Nonproprietary Name is epinephrine. Epinephrine was chosen because adrenaline bore too much similarity to the Parke, Davis & Co trademark Adrenalin (without the "e"), which was registered in the United States. The British Approved Name and European Pharmacopoeia term for this chemical is adrenaline, and is indeed now one of the few differences between the INN and BAN systems of names.[17]

Amongst American health professionals and scientists, the term epinephrine is used over adrenaline. However, it should be noted that pharmaceuticals that mimic the effects of epinephrine are often called adrenergics, and receptors for epinephrine are called adrenergic receptors or adrenoceptors.

See also



  1. ^ Berecek KH, Brody MJ (1982). "Evidence for a neurotransmitter role for epinephrine derived from the adrenal medulla". Am J Physiol 242 (4): H593-601. PMID 6278965.  edit
  2. ^ Cannon, W. B. (1929). American Journal of Physiology 89: 84–107. [Full citation needed]
  3. ^ Gail Askew and Marilyn Smith-Stoner. (2001). The Pharmacy Assistant (Clinical Allied Heathcare Series). Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning. pp. 4–6. ISBN 0-89262-438-8. 
  4. ^ "0406_s1_article_01". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  5. ^ Yamashima T (2003). "Jokichi Takamine (1854–1922), the samurai chemist, and his work on adrenalin". J Med Biogr 11 (2): 95–102. PMID 12717538. 
  6. ^ a b Bennett M (1999). "One hundred years of adrenaline: the discovery of autoreceptors". Clin Auton Res 9 (3): 145–59. doi:10.1007/BF02281628. PMID 10454061. 
  7. ^ Takamine J (1901). The isolation of the active principle of the suprarenal gland. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press. pp. xxix-xxx.,M1. 
  8. ^ a b Shen, Howard (2008). Illustrated Pharmacology Memory Cards: PharMnemonics. Minireview. pp. 4. ISBN 1-59541-101-1. 
  9. ^ a b Sabyasachi Sircar (2007). Medical Physiology. Thieme Publishing Group. pp. 536. ISBN 3-13-144061-9. 
  10. ^ "Asthma Causes, Types, Symptoms, Treatment, Medication, Facts and the Link to Allergies by". 
  11. ^ Bjornson CL, Johnson DW (2008), "Croup", The Lancet 371 (9609): 329-339, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)60170-1, PMID 18295000 
  12. ^ a b Thomas LP, Friedland LR (1998), "The cost-effective use of nebulized racemic epinephrine in the treatment of croup", American Journal of Emergency Medicine 16 (1): 87-89, PMID 9451322 
  13. ^ a b Malhotra A, Krilov LR (2001), "Viral Croup", Pediatrics in Review 22 (1): 5-12, doi:10.1542/pir.22-1-5, PMID 11139641 
  14. ^ - "The Definition of Epinephrine"
  15. ^ What Is An Adrenaline Junkie? What Can You Do If You Are One? by Elizabeth Scott, M.S. (updated: November 1, 2007) Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board
  16. ^ Fight-or-flight reaction - Explanations - Brain -
  17. ^

General references

  • Boron WF, Boulpaep EL (2005). Medical Physiology: A Cellular And Molecular Approach. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier/Saunders. ISBN 1-4160-2328-3. OCLC 56191776. 
  • Voet D, Voet J (2004). Biochemistry (3rd ed.). USA: Wiley. ISBN 0-471-19350-x. OCLC 154657578. 

External links


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