Acclimatization to high altitude increase muscle sympathetic activity both at rest and during exercise.
This investigation examined the relationship between alterations in plasma norepinephrine associated with 21 days of high-altitude exposure and muscle sympathetic activity both at rest and during exercise. Healthy sea level residents, divided into a control group (n = 5) receiving a placebo or a drug group (n = 6) receiving 240 mg/day of propranolol, were studied while at sea level, upon arrival (acute), and after 21 days of residence (chronic) at 4,300 m. Arterial norepinephrine levels and net leg uptake and release of norepinephrine were determine both at rest and during 45 min of submaximal exercise via samples collected from femoral arterial and venous catheters. Arterial norepinephrine levels increased significantly after chronic altitude exposure both at rest (84%) and during exercise (174%) compared with sea level and acute values. A net uptake of norepinephrine was found in resting legs at sea level (0.28 +/- 0.05 nmol/min) and with acute exposure (0.07 +/- 0.06 nmol/min); however, a significant switch to net leg norepinephrine release was observed with chronic altitude exposure (0.51 +/- 0.11 nmol/min). With exercise, a net release of norepinephrine by the leg occurred across all conditions with chronic exposure, again eliciting the greatest values (5.3 +/- 0.6, 8.0 +/- 1.7, and 14.4 +/- 3.1 nmol/min for sea level, acute, and chronic exposure, respectively). It was concluded that muscle sympathetic activity is significantly elevated both at rest and during submaximal exercise as a result of chronic high-altitude exposure, and muscle is a major contributor to the increase in plasma norepinephrine levels associated with prolonged altitude exposure. The presence of dense beta-blockade did not alter this adaptation to altitude.