Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2011
To help resolve the mechanistic bases for haematological adaptations (~28% increase in red blood cell volume) of equids to high altitude (3800 m, barometric pressure Pb, 487 mm Hg) and exercise, plasma erythropoietin concentration ([EPO]) was measured at rest and following exercise in six, moderately fit equids (four Arabians, one Quarter Horse and one Shetland Pony; four females and two males; age 9.0 ± 4.5 years (mean ± SD)). [EPO] was measured on 2 days at 225 m (i.e. ~sea level; Pb, 743 mm Hg), over the course of a 10-day altitude exposure, and then again for 2 days after return to sea level. A standard track exercise test (submaximal, speed set-to-heart rate of 110 (trot), 150 (canter), 180 (gallop) bpm) was performed 2 days pre-high-altitude exposure and on three separate days at high altitude. In addition, a maximal incremental exercise test was performed on a high-speed motor-driven treadmill at sea level and 2 days following return to sea level from high altitude. Resting [EPO] increased from 28 ± 29 at sea level to 144 ± 46 mU ml− 1 (P < 0.05) on the first day at high altitude. By day 2 at high altitude, [EPO] had returned to baseline (31 ± 24 mU ml− 1, P>0.05 vs. pre-high altitude) and did not change over the remaining 8 days at high altitude nor over the 2 days after return to sea level. [EPO] was not significantly altered by acute exercise at sea level or at 3800 m. These results indicate that [EPO] increases rapidly (though transiently) in response to hypobaric hypoxia but not to acute exercise, and that exercise does not appear to potentiate the altitude response. Thus, if any [EPO]-derived haematological adaptations to high altitude are present, these appear to result from a transient ~4-fold elevation of [EPO] rather than any sustained increase in this signalling mechanism, at least in the equid.