Global REACH 2018: increased adrenergic restraint of blood flow preserves coupling of oxygen delivery and demand during exercise at high-altitude

Alexander B. Hansen, Gilbert Moralez, Sachin B. Amin, Florian Hofstätter, Lydia L. Simpson, Christopher Gasho, Michael M. Tymko, Philip N. Ainslie, Justin S. Lawley, Christopher M. Hearon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Abstract: Chronic exposure to hypoxia (high-altitude, HA; >4000 m) attenuates the vasodilatory response to exercise and is associated with a persistent increase in basal sympathetic nerve activity (SNA). The mechanism(s) responsible for the reduced vasodilatation and exercise hyperaemia at HA remains unknown. We hypothesized that heightened adrenergic signalling restrains skeletal muscle blood flow during handgrip exercise in lowlanders acclimatizing to HA. We tested nine adult males (n = 9) at sea-level (SL; 344 m) and following 21–28 days at HA (∼4300 m). Forearm blood flow (FBF; duplex ultrasonography), mean arterial pressure (MAP; brachial artery catheter), forearm vascular conductance (FVC; FBF/MAP), and arterial and venous blood sampling (O2 delivery ((Formula presented.)) and uptake ((Formula presented.))) were measured at rest and during graded rhythmic handgrip exercise (5%, 15% and 25% of maximum voluntary isometric contraction; MVC) before and after local α- and β-adrenergic blockade (intra-arterial phentolamine and propranolol). HA reduced ΔFBF (25% MVC: SL: 138.3 ± 47.6 vs. HA: 113.4 ± 37.1 ml min−1; P = 0.022) and Δ (Formula presented.) (25% MVC: SL: 20.3 ± 7.5 vs. HA: 14.3 ± 6.2 ml min−1; P = 0.014) during exercise. Local adrenoreceptor blockade at HA restored FBF during exercise (25% MVC: SLα–β blockade: 164.1 ± 71.7 vs. HAα–β blockade: 185.4 ± 66.6 ml min−1; P = 0.947) but resulted in an exaggerated relationship between (Formula presented.) and (Formula presented.) ((Formula presented.) / (Formula presented.) slope: SL: 1.32; HA: slope: 1.86; P = 0.037). These results indicate that tonic adrenergic signalling restrains exercise hyperaemia in lowlanders acclimatizing to HA. The increase in adrenergic restraint is necessary to match oxygen delivery to demand and prevent over perfusion of contracting muscle at HA. (Figure presented.). Key points: In exercising skeletal muscle, local vasodilatory signalling and sympathetic vasoconstriction integrate to match oxygen delivery to demand and maintain arterial blood pressure. Exposure to chronic hypoxia (altitude, >4000 m) causes a persistent increase in sympathetic nervous system activity that is associated with impaired functional capacity and diminished vasodilatation during exercise. In healthy male lowlanders exposed to chronic hypoxia (21–28 days; ∼4300 m), local adrenoreceptor blockade (combined α- and β-adrenergic blockade) restored skeletal muscle blood flow during handgrip exercise. However, removal of tonic adrenergic restraint at high altitude caused an excessive rise in blood flow and subsequently oxygen delivery for any given metabolic demand. This investigation is the first to identify greater adrenergic restraint of blood flow during acclimatization to high altitude and provides evidence of a functional role for this adaptive response in regulating oxygen delivery and demand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Physiology
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • blood flow
  • exercise hyperaemia
  • high-altitude
  • hypoxia
  • sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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