norepinephrine [key], a neurotransmitter in the catecholamine family that mediates chemical communication in the sympathetic nervous system, a branch of the autonomic nervous system. Like other neurotransmitters, it is released at synaptic nerve endings to transmit the signal from a nerve cell to other cells. Norepinephrine is almost identical in structure to epinephrine, which is released into the bloodstream from the adrenal medulla under sympathetic activation. The sympathetic nervous system functions in response to short-term stress; hence norepinephrine and epinephrine increase the heart rate as well as blood pressure. Other actions of norepinephrine include increased glycogenolysis (the conversion of glycogen to glucose) in the liver, increased lipolysis (the conversion of fats to fatty acids; see fats and oils) in adipose (fat) tissue, and relaxation of bronchial smooth muscle to open up the air passages to the lungs. All of these actions represent a mobilization of the body's resources in order to meet the stressful challenge—such a response is often termed the “flight or fight” syndrome.
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