Oxidative stress in hypobaric hypoxia and influence on vessel-tone modifying mediators

High Alt Med Biol. 2013 Sep;14(3):273-9. doi: 10.1089/ham.2012.1110.


Increased pulmonary artery pressure is a well-known phenomenon of hypoxia and is seen in patients with chronic pulmonary diseases, and also in mountaineers on high altitude expedition. Different mediators are known to regulate pulmonary artery vessel tone. However, exact mechanisms are not fully understood and a multimodal process consisting of a whole panel of mediators is supposed to cause pulmonary artery vasoconstriction. We hypothesized that increased hypoxemia is associated with an increase in vasoconstrictive mediators and decrease of vasodilatators leading to a vasoconstrictive net effect. Furthermore, we suggested oxidative stress being partly involved in changement of these parameters. Oxygen saturation (Sao2) and clinical parameters were assessed in 34 volunteers before and during a Swiss research expedition to Mount Muztagh Ata (7549 m) in Western China. Blood samples were taken at four different sites up to an altitude of 6865 m. A mass spectrometry-based targeted metabolomic platform was used to detect multiple parameters, and revealed functional impairment of enzymes that require oxidation-sensitive cofactors. Specifically, the tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4)-dependent enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS) showed significantly lower activities (citrulline-to-arginine ratio decreased from baseline median 0.21 to 0.14 at 6265 m), indicating lower NO availability resulting in less vasodilatative activity. Correspondingly, an increase in systemic oxidative stress was found with a significant increase of the percentage of methionine sulfoxide from a median 6% under normoxic condition to a median level of 30% (p<0.001) in camp 1 at 5533 m. Furthermore, significant increase in vasoconstrictive mediators (e.g., tryptophan, serotonin, and peroxidation-sensitive lipids) were found. During ascent up to 6865 m, significant altitude-dependent changes in multiple vessel-tone modifying mediators with excess in vasoconstrictive metabolites could be demonstrated. These changes, as well as highly significant increase in systemic oxidative stress, may be predictive for increase in acute mountain sickness score and changes in Sao2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Altitude
  • Altitude Sickness / blood*
  • Altitude Sickness / physiopathology
  • Amino Acids / blood*
  • Arginine / analogs & derivatives
  • Arginine / blood
  • Blood Vessels / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyeicosatetraenoic Acids / blood
  • Hypoxia / blood*
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Methionine / analogs & derivatives
  • Methionine / blood
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / blood
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pressure
  • Serotonin / blood


  • Amino Acids
  • Hydroxyeicosatetraenoic Acids
  • Serotonin
  • symmetric dimethylarginine
  • Arginine
  • Methionine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Oxygen
  • methionine sulfoxide