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Physiol Rep. 2018 Mar;6(5). doi: 10.14814/phy2.13613.

Human physiological and metabolic responses to an attempted winter crossing of Antarctica: the effects of prolonged hypobaric hypoxia.

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Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.
Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Biomedical Research Centre in Nutrition, Southampton University Hospitals Trust, Southampton, United Kingdom.
Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
Department of Medicine and Physiology, Fribourg, Switzerland.
Department of Primary Care & Public Health Sciences, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.
Centre for Biomolecular Spectroscopy and Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics, King's College London Guy's Campus London, London, United Kingdom.
KBRwyle, European Astronaut Centre, European Space Agency, Linder Höhe, Cologne, Germany.
GlaxoSmithKline Human Performance Lab, Brentford, United Kingdom.
Respiratory Data Sciences Group, Respiratory TAU, GlaxosmithKline Medicines Research, Stevenage, United Kingdom.


An insufficient supply of oxygen to the tissues (hypoxia), as is experienced upon high-altitude exposure, elicits physiological acclimatization mechanisms alongside metabolic remodeling. Details of the integrative adaptive processes in response to chronic hypobaric hypoxic exposure remain to be sufficiently investigated. In this small applied field study, subjects (n = 5, male, age 28-54 years) undertook a 40 week Antarctica expedition in the winter months, which included 24 weeks residing above 2500 m. Measurements taken pre- and postexpedition revealed alterations to glucose and fatty acid resonances within the serum metabolic profile, a 7.8 (±3.6)% increase in respiratory exchange ratio measured during incremental exercise (area under curve, P > 0.01, mean ± SD) and a 2.1(±0.8) % decrease in fat tissue (P < 0.05) postexpedition. This was accompanied by an 11.6 (±1.9) % increase (P > 0.001) in VO2 max corrected to % lean mass postexpedition. In addition, spine bone mineral density and lung function measures were identified as novel parameters of interest. This study provides, an in-depth characterization of the responses to chronic hypobaric hypoxic exposure in one of the most hostile environments on Earth.


Acclimatization; chronic exposure; hypobaric hypoxia

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