Previous studies of the erythropoietic response to hypoxia in high-altitude natives suggest that the hematocrit and hemoglobin values in Himalayan natives (Sherpas) are lower than expected for the altitude, perhaps because of a genetic adaptation. However, differences in sampling techniques and experimental methods make comparisons difficult. Our studies were carried out to compare the erythropoietic response with the same altitude in age-matched natives of the Himalayas and Andes by the same experimental techniques. Healthy male subjects were selected in Ollagüe, Chile (n = 29, 27.3 +/- 5.9 yr) and in Khunde, Nepal (n = 30, 24.7 +/- 3.8 yr). Both of these villages are located at 3,700 m above sea level. Hematologic measurements confirmed lower hematocrit values in Nepal (48.4 +/- 4.5%) than in Chile (52.2 +/- 4.6%) (P less than 0.003). When subjects were matched for hematocrit, erythropoietin concentrations in Chile were higher than in Nepal (P less than 0.01). Detailed measurements of blood O2 affinity in Nepal showed no differences in shape or position of the O2 equilibrium curve between Sherpas and Western sojourners. Our results indicate that although Quechua Indians have higher hematocrits than Sherpas living at the same altitude, nevertheless they may be functionally anemic.