Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 158, Issue 4, pp 469–477 | Cite as

Oxygen binding properties, capillary densities and heart weights in high altitude camelids

  • Klaus D. Jürgens
  • Manfred Pietschmann
  • Kazuhiro Yamaguchi
  • Traute Kleinschmidt


The oxygen binding properties of the blood of the camelid species vicuna, llama, alpaca and dromedary camel were measured and evaluated with respect to interspecific differences. The highest blood oxygen affinity, not only among camelids but of all mammals investigated so far, was found in the vicuna (P50=17.6 Torr compared to 20.3–21.6 Torr in the other species). Low hematocrits (23–34%) and small red blood cells (21–30 μm3) are common features of all camelids, but the lowest values are found in theLama species. Capillary densities were determined in heart and soleus muscle of vicuna and llama. Again, the vicuna shows exceptional values (3720 cap/mm2 on average in the heart) for a mammal of this body size. Finally, heart weight as percent of body weight is higher in the vicuna (0.7–0.9%) than in the other camelids studied (0.5–0.7%). The possibility that these parameters, measured in New World tylopodes at sea level, are not likely to change considerably with transfer to high altitude, is discussed.

In the vicuna, a unique combination of the following features seems to be responsible for an out-standing physical capability at high altitude: saturation of blood with oxygen in the lung is favored by a high blood oxygen affinity, oxygen supply being facilitated by low diffusion distances in the muscle tissue. Loading, as well as unloading, of oxygen is improved by a relatively high oxygen transfer conductance of the red blood cells, which is due to their small size and which compensates the negative effect of a low hematocrit on the oxygen conductance of blood. Blood oxygen transport is presumably favored by two factors: a relatively large heart mass and, as a result of low hematocrit, a low blood viscosity. Both are advantageous for achieving a high maximal cardiac output.


High Altitude Soleus Muscle Blood Viscosity Capillary Density Heart Weight 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Klaus D. Jürgens
    • 1
  • Manfred Pietschmann
    • 1
  • Kazuhiro Yamaguchi
    • 2
  • Traute Kleinschmidt
    • 3
  1. 1.Zentrum PhysiologieMedizinische Hochschule HannoverHannover 61Federal Republic of Germany
  2. 2.School of MedicineKeio UniversityTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Abteilung ProteinchemieMax-Planck-Institut für BiochemieMartinsriedFederal Republic of Germany

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