Effects of exposure to high altitude on plasma endothelin-1 levels in normal subjects

Alberto Morganti, Marco Giussani, Carla Sala, Gabriella Gazzano, Ivana Marana, Alberto Pierini, Maria Teresa Savoia, Francesca Ghio, Annalisa Cogo, Alberto Zanchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To assess whether the hypoxia associated with exposure to high altitude affects plasma endothelin-1 levels, and whether changes in endothelin-1 are related to those in systemic and pulmonary blood pressure. Design: Eight normal subjects ascended Mount Everest to an altitude of 5050 m within a period of 8 days (study 1) and 10 ascended Mount Rosa in the Italian Alps to an altitude of 4559 m within 2 days (study 2). In study 1 systemic blood pressure, heart rate, haematocrit, haemoglobin oxygen saturation (evaluated by percutaneous oximetry) and venous plasma endothelin-1 were measured several times during the ascent, and twice more during the time spent at high altitude. In study 2 the same parameters as well as systolic pulmonary pressure by echocardiography were evaluated on the second day of resting at 4559 m. In both studies, data obtained during the expeditions were compared with those collected from the same subjects at sea level. Results: In study 1 plasma endothelin-1 increased progressively up to 4240 m (from 1.8±0.1 pg/ml at sea level to 2.7±0.2 pg/ml) and decreased slightly thereafter; these increments were directly related to the decrements in percutaneous oxygen saturation, which, at that altitude, fell from 98.6±0.2% at sea level to 80.8±0.4%. Blood pressure and haematocrit also rose in response to exposure to high altitude but these changes were not related to changes in endothelin-1. In study 2 the increments in plasma endothelin-1 were similar to those observed in study 1 and the changes again correlated with changes in oxygen saturation as well as with those in systolic pulmonary pressure. On average, systolic pulmonary pressure increased from 19 ± 1 to 26±1.9mmHg, whereas systemic blood pressure and haematocrit were unchanged. Conclusion: Exposure to high altitude is associated with consistent increases in plasma endothelin-1. This is probably the result of augmented secretion of the peptide in response to hypoxia and may contribute to the physiological adaptation of the pulmonary circulation to this condition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)859-865
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Hypertension
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1995


  • Adaptation
  • Endothelin-1
  • High altitude
  • Hypoxia
  • Systemic and pulmonary pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology


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