Pulmonary ventilation and gas exchange during prolonged exercise in humans: Influence of dehydration, hyperthermia and sympathoadrenal activity

Exp Physiol. 2023 Feb;108(2):188-206. doi: 10.1113/EP090909. Epub 2023 Jan 9.


New findings: What is the central question of the study? Ventilation increases during prolonged intense exercise, but the impact of dehydration and hyperthermia, with associated blunting of pulmonary circulation, and independent influences of dehydration, hyperthermia and sympathoadrenal discharge on ventilatory and pulmonary gas exchange responses remain unclear. What is the main finding and its importance? Dehydration and hyperthermia led to hyperventilation and compensatory adjustments in pulmonary CO2 and O2 exchange, such that CO2 output increased and O2 uptake remained unchanged despite the blunted circulation. Isolated hyperthermia and adrenaline infusion, but not isolated dehydration, increased ventilation to levels similar to combined dehydration and hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is the main stimulus increasing ventilation during prolonged intense exercise, partly via sympathoadrenal activation.

Abstract: The mechanisms driving hyperthermic hyperventilation during exercise are unclear. In a series of retrospective analyses, we evaluated the impact of combined versus isolated dehydration and hyperthermia and the effects of sympathoadrenal discharge on ventilation and pulmonary gas exchange during prolonged intense exercise. In the first study, endurance-trained males performed two submaximal cycling exercise trials in the heat. On day 1, participants cycled until volitional exhaustion (135 ± 11 min) while experiencing progressive dehydration and hyperthermia. On day 2, participants maintained euhydration and core temperature (Tc ) during a time-matched exercise (control). At rest and during the first 20 min of exercise, pulmonary ventilation ( V ̇ E ${\skew2\dot V_{\rm{E}}}$ ), arterial blood gases, CO2 output and O2 uptake were similar in both trials. At 135 ± 11 min, however, V ̇ E ${\skew2\dot V_{\rm{E}}}$ was elevated with dehydration and hyperthermia, and this was accompanied by lower arterial partial pressure of CO2 , higher breathing frequency, arterial partial pressure of O2 , arteriovenous CO2 and O2 differences, and elevated CO2 output and unchanged O2 uptake despite a reduced pulmonary circulation. The increased V ̇ E ${\skew2\dot V_{\rm{E}}}$ was closely related to the rise in Tc and circulating catecholamines (R2 ≥ 0.818, P ≤ 0.034). In three additional studies in different participants, hyperthermia independently increased V ̇ E ${\skew2\dot V_{\rm{E}}}$ to an extent similar to combined dehydration and hyperthermia, whereas prevention of hyperthermia in dehydrated individuals restored V ̇ E ${\skew2\dot V_{\rm{E}}}$ to control levels. Furthermore, adrenaline infusion during exercise elevated both Tc and V ̇ E ${\skew2\dot V_{\rm{E}}}$ . These findings indicate that: (1) adjustments in pulmonary gas exchange limit homeostatic disturbances in the face of a blunted pulmonary circulation; (2) hyperthermia is the main stimulus increasing ventilation during prolonged intense exercise; and (3) sympathoadrenal activation might partly mediate the hyperthermic hyperventilation.

Keywords: blood gases; body fluids; temperature; ventilation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Dehydration
  • Epinephrine
  • Humans
  • Hyperthermia, Induced*
  • Hyperventilation*
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange / physiology
  • Pulmonary Ventilation
  • Respiration
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Epinephrine