Red cell function at extreme altitude on Mount Everest

J Appl Physiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol. 1984 Jan;56(1):109-16. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1984.56.1.109.


As part of the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest in 1981, we measured hemoglobin concentration, red cell 2,3-diphosphoglycerate (2,3-DPG), Po2 at which hemoglobin is 50% saturated (P50), and acid-base status in expedition members at various altitudes. All measurements were made in expedition laboratories and, with the exception of samples from the South Col of Mt. Everest (8,050 m), within 2 h of blood collection. In vivo conditions were estimated from direct measurements of arterial blood gases and pH or inferred from base excess and alveolar PCO2. As expected, increased 2,3-DPG was associated with slightly increased P50, when expressed at pH 7.4. Because of respiratory alkalosis, however, the subjects' in vivo P50 at 6,300 m (27.6 Torr) was slightly less than at sea level (28.1 Torr). The estimated in vivo P50 was progressively lower at 8,050 m (24.9 Torr) and on the summit at 8,848 m (19.4 Torr in one subject). Our data suggest that, at extreme altitude, the blood O2 equilibrium curve shifts progressively leftward because of respiratory alkalosis. This left shift protects arterial O2 saturation at extreme altitude.

MeSH terms

  • 2,3-Diphosphoglycerate
  • Acid-Base Equilibrium
  • Adult
  • Altitude*
  • Diphosphoglyceric Acids / blood
  • Erythrocytes / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hematocrit
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mountaineering*


  • Diphosphoglyceric Acids
  • Hemoglobins
  • 2,3-Diphosphoglycerate