It has been proposed that relative changes of oxygen availability, rather than steady-state hypoxic or hyperoxic conditions, play an important role in hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) transcriptional effects. According to this hypothesis describing the "normobaric oxygen paradox", normoxia following a hyperoxic event is sensed by tissues as an oxygen shortage, upregulating HIF-1 activity. With the aim of confirming, at cellular and at functional level, that normoxia following a hyperoxic event is "interpreted" as a hypoxic event, we report a combination of experiments addressing the effects of an intermittent increase of oxygen concentration on HIF-1 levels and the activity level of specific oxygen-modulated proteins in cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells and the effects of hemoglobin levels after intermittent breathing of normobaric high (100%) and low (15%) oxygen in vivo in humans. Our experiments confirm that, during recovery after hyperoxia, an increase of HIF expression occurs in human umbilical vein endothelial cells, associated with an increase of matrix metalloproteinases activity. These data suggest that endothelial cells "interpret" the return to normoxia after hyperoxia as a hypoxic stimulus. At functional level, our data show that breathing both 15 and 100% oxygen 30 min every other day for a period of 10 days induces an increase of hemoglobin levels in humans. This effect was enhanced after the cessation of the oxygen breathing. These results indicate that a sudden decrease in tissue oxygen tension after hyperoxia may act as a trigger for erythropoietin synthesis, thus corroborating the hypothesis that "relative" hypoxia is a potent stimulator of HIF-mediated gene expressions.