Increased serum erythropoietin but not red cell production after 4 wk of intermittent hypobaric hypoxia (4,000-5,500 m)

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Nov;101(5):1386-93. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00342.2006. Epub 2006 Jun 22.


This study tested the hypothesis that athletes exposed to 4 wk of intermittent hypobaric hypoxia exposure (3 h/day, 5 days/wk at 4,000-5,500 m) or double-blind placebo increase their red blood cell volume (RCV) and hemoglobin mass (Hbmass) secondary to an increase in erythropoietin (EPO). Twenty-three collegiate level athletes were measured before (Pre) and after (Post) the intervention for RCV via Evans blue (EB) dye and in duplicate for Hbmass using CO rebreathing. Hematological indexes including EPO, soluble transferrin receptor, and reticulocyte parameters were measured on 8-10 occasions spanning the intervention. The subjects were randomly divided among hypobaric hypoxia (Hypo, n = 11) and normoxic (Norm, n = 12) groups. Apart from doubling EPO concentration 3 h after hypoxia there was no increase in any of the measures for either Hypo or Norm groups. The mean change in RCV from Pre to Post for the Hypo group was 2.3% (95% confidence limits = -4.8 to 9.5%) and for the Norm group was -0.2% (-5.7 to 5.3%). The corresponding changes in Hbmass were 1.0% (-1.3 to 3.3%) for Hypo and -0.3% (-2.6 to 3.1%) for Norm. There was good agreement between blood volume (BV) from EB and CO: EB BV = 1.03 x CO BV + 142, r2 = 0.85, P < 0.0001. Overall, evidence from four independent techniques (RCV, Hbmass, reticulocyte parameters, and soluble transferrin receptor) suggests that intermittent hypobaric hypoxia exposure did not accelerate erythropoiesis despite the increase in serum EPO.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Altitude*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Erythrocyte Volume / physiology
  • Erythropoiesis / physiology*
  • Erythropoietin / blood*
  • Female
  • Hematologic Tests
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / blood*
  • Male
  • Running / physiology
  • Swimming / physiology


  • Erythropoietin