It was hypothesized that, in shift workers with a history of intermittent hypoxic stress (working 10 days at > 3,600 m, then resting for 4 days at sea level) for > 5 yr, the initial erythropoietin (EPO) response and the changes in central venous pressure (CVP) are different from those in Caucasian lowlanders. We studied the kitchen personnel (n = 11) of a mine (3,600 m) and a group of Caucasian lowlanders (n = 5). Blood samples were taken, and CVP was determined several times before, during, and after a typical shift. At baseline data collection (BDC) before transition, the shift workers had EPO concentrations of 5.2 +/- 2.4 mU/ml, which increased at altitude (P < 0.01) and returned to BDC values on the recovery (day 16). The Caucasians showed the same time course. Serum transferrin receptor concentrations did not change in either group. CVP values were generally higher in the shift workers than in the Caucasians. In conclusion, the hypothesis that the initial EPO response to a hypoxic stimulus is altered in these shift workers has to be refuted. Higher hemoglobin concentrations and/or CVP values in shift workers might be responsible for the rather low EPO concentrations in shift workers at BDC.