Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Osmoregulation and control of vasopressin secretion in healthy humans

P. H. Baylis


The functional characteristics of osmoregulated vasopressin secretion can be defined in terms of an osmotic threshold for its release and a sensitivity of the osmoreceptor and vasopressin-secreting unit. Osmotically stimulated thirst has features similar to osmoregulated vasopressin. There are wide individual variations in the functional characteristics of both thirst and vasopressin release in healthy humans, probably genetic in origin. The influence of aging appears to enhance the sensitivity of vasopressin secretion but blunt thirst appreciation. Yet in many physiological situations changes in osmoregulated vasopressin release and thirst occur in parallel. The fall in plasma osmolality associated with human pregnancy is accounted for entirely by a lowering of the osmotic thresholds for thirst and vasopressin release. Similar but less marked alterations accompany the ovulatory luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. A major nonosmotic stimulus to vasopressin secretion is hypotension and/or hypovolemia, mediated by high- (carotid sinus) and low- (left atrial) pressure receptors. Circulating catecholamines influence the release of vasopressin by alpha- and beta-adrenergic pathways. Drinking by hypertonic humans provides immediate reduction in thirst and vasopressin secretion probably mediated by pathways from the oropharynx. The modest but variable rise in plasma vasopressin in response to hypoglycemia appears to be due to cellular neuroglycopenia and is independent of parasympathetic pathways. Although osmotic and hemodynamic stimuli to vasopressin release do not act independently of each other, the precise subtle interactions between them and other nonosmotic stimuli remain to be clarified.