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Operation Everest II: Adaptations In Human Skeletal Muscle

H. J. Green, J. R. Sutton, A. Cymerman, P. M. Young, C. S. Houston

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Adaptations in skeletal muscle in response to progressive hypobaria were investigated in eight male subjects [maximal O2 uptake = 51.2 +/- 3.0 (SE)] over 40 days of progressive decompression to the stimulated altitude of the summit of Mt. Everest. Samples of the vastus lateralis muscle extracted before decompression (SL-1), at 380 and 282 Torr, and on return to sea level (SL-2) indicated that maximal activities of enzymes representative of the citric acid cycle, beta-oxidation, glycogenolysis, glycolysis, glucose phosphorylation, and high-energy phosphate transfer were unchanged (P greater than 0.05) at 380 and 282 Torr over initial SL-1 values. After exposure to 282 Torr, however, representing an additional period of approximately 7 days, reductions (P less than 0.05) were noted in succinic dehydrogenase (21%), citrate synthetase (37%), and hexokinase (53%) between SL-2 and 380 Torr. No changes were found in the other enzymes. Capillarization as measured by the number of capillaries per cross-sectional area (CC/FA) was increased (P less than 0.05) in both type I (0.94 +/- 0.8 vs. 1.16 +/- 0.05) and type II (0.84 +/- 0.07 vs. 1.05 +/- 0.08) fibers between SL-1 and SL-2. This increase was mediated by a reduction in fiber area. No changes were found in fiber-type distribution (type I vs. type II). These findings do not support the hypothesis, at least in humans, that, at the level of the muscle cell, extreme hypobaric hypoxia elicits adaptations directed toward maximizing oxidative function.