The Journal of Physiological Sciences

, Volume 68, Issue 6, pp 847–853 | Cite as

Hypoxia-induced lowered executive function depends on arterial oxygen desaturation

  • Genta Ochi
  • Yusuke Kanazawa
  • Kazuki Hyodo
  • Kazuya Suwabe
  • Takeshi Shimizu
  • Takemune Fukuie
  • Kyeongho Byun
  • Hideaki SoyaEmail author
Original Paper


Although it has been traditionally thought that decreasing SpO2 with ascent to high altitudes not only induces acute mountain sickness but also can decrease executive function, the relationship between decreased SpO2 levels and hypoxia-induced lowered executive function is still unclear. Here we aimed to clarify whether hypoxia-induced lowered executive function was associated with arterial oxygen desaturation, using 21 participants performing the color–word Stroop task under normoxic and three hypoxic conditions (FIO2 = 0.165, 0.135, 0.105; corresponding to altitudes of 2000, 3500, and 5000 m, respectively). Stroop interference significantly increased under severe hypoxic condition (FIO2 = 0.105) compared with the other conditions. Moreover, there was a negative correlation between Stroop interference and SpO2. In conclusion, acute exposure to severe hypoxic condition decreased executive function and this negative effect was associated with decreased SpO2. We initially implicated an arterial oxygen desaturation as a potential physiological factor resulting in hypoxia-induced lowered executive function.


Normobaric hypoxia Cognitive impairment Stroop task Percutaneous arterial oxygen saturation 


Author contributions

GO and HS designed the study; GO, YK, KS, and TF collected the data; GO, KH, KS, TS, and HS performed the analysis; GO and HS wrote the manuscript.


This work was funded by the Special Funds for Education and Research of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) entitled “Global Initiative for Human High Performance (HHP) Research Project (1111501004)”, Program for Advancing Strategic International Networks to Accelerate the Circulation of Talented Researchers of the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) entitled “Global Initiative for Sports Neuroscience (GISN): for development of exercise prescription enhancing cognitive function (HFH27016)” and KAKENHI Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas entitled “Next generation exercise program for developing motivation, body and mind performance (16H06405)” to H.S., and KAKENHI Grants-in-Aid for JSPS research Fellow (15J00782) to G.O.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest regarding this study.

Ethical approval

All procedures and protocols performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards by the Physiological Society of Japan and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments and were approved by the Institutional Ethical Committee of University of Tsukuba. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. 1.
    Mandolesi G, Avancini G, Bartesaghi M et al (2014) Long-term monitoring of oxygen saturation at altitude can be useful in predicting the subsequent development of moderate-to-severe acute mountain sickness. Wilderness Environ Med 25:384–391. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    McMorris T, Hale BJ, Barwood M et al (2017) Effect of acute hypoxia on cognition: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 74:225–232. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Taylor L, Watkins SL, Marshall H et al (2016) The impact of different environmental conditions on cognitive function: a focused review. Front Physiol 6:372. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Virués-Ortega J, Buela-Casal G, Garrido E, Alcázar B (2004) Neuropsychological functioning associated with high-altitude exposure. Neuropsychol Rev 14:197–224. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Yan X (2014) cognitive impairments at high altitudes and adaptation. High Alt Med Biol 15:141–145. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Phillips JB, Hørning D, Funke ME (2015) Cognitive and perceptual deficits of normobaric hypoxia and the time course to performance recovery. Aerosp Med Hum Perform 86:357–365. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Turner CE, Barker-Collo SL, Connell CJW, Gant N (2015) Acute hypoxic gas breathing severely impairs cognition and task learning in humans. Physiol Behav 142:104–110. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    MacLeod CM (1991) Half a century of research on the Stroop effect: an integrative review. Psychol Bull 109:163–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Stroop JR (1935) Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. J Exp Psychol 18:643–662. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Asmaro D, Mayall J, Ferguson S (2013) Cognition at altitude: impairment in executive and memory processes under hypoxic conditions. Aviat Space Environ Med 84:1159–1165. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Issa AN, Herman NM, Wentz RJ et al (2016) Association of cognitive performance with time at altitude, sleep quality, and acute mountain sickness symptoms. Wilderness Environ Med 27:371–378. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Aquino Lemos V, Antunes HKM, Santos RVT et al (2012) High-altitude exposure impairs sleep patterns, mood, and cognitive functions. Psychophysiology 49:1298–1306. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Byun K, Hyodo K, Suwabe K et al (2014) Positive effect of acute mild exercise on executive function via arousal-related prefrontal activations: an fNIRS study. Neuroimage 98:336–345. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Hyodo K, Dan I, Kyutoku Y et al (2016) The association between aerobic fitness and cognitive function in older men mediated by frontal lateralization. Neuroimage 125:291–300. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hyodo K, Dan I, Suwabe K et al (2012) Acute moderate exercise enhances compensatory brain activation in older adults. Neurobiol Aging 33:2621–2632. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Yanagisawa H, Dan I, Tsuzuki D et al (2010) Acute moderate exercise elicits increased dorsolateral prefrontal activation and improves cognitive performance with Stroop test. Neuroimage 50:1702–1710. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Zysset S, Müller K, Lohmann G, von Cramon DY (2001) Color–word Matching Stroop: separating interference and response conflict. Neuroimage 13:29–36. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Eichhorn L, Erdfelder F, Kessler F et al (2015) Evaluation of near-infrared spectroscopy under apnea-dependent hypoxia in humans. J Clin Monit Comput 29:749–757. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Kusaka T, Isobe K, Nagano K et al (2002) Quantification of cerebral oxygenation by full-spectrum near-infrared spectroscopy using a two-point method. Comp Biochem Physiol Part A Mol Integr Physiol 132:121–132. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ricci M, Lombardi P, Schultz S et al (2006) Near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor cerebral oxygen saturation in single-ventricle physiology. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 131:395–402. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Teppema LJ, Dahan A (2010) The ventilatory response to hypoxia in mammals: mechanisms, measurement, and analysis. Physiol Rev 90:675–754. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Steinback CD, Poulin MJ (2007) Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular responses to acute isocapnic and poikilocapnic hypoxia in humans. J Appl Physiol 104:482–489. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Ide K, Eliasziw M, Poulin MJ (2003) Relationship between middle cerebral artery blood velocity and end-tidal PCO2 in the hypocapnic–hypercapnic range in humans. J Appl Physiol 95:129–137. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    MacDonald AW (2000) Dissociating the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex in cognitive control. Science (80−) 288:1835–1838. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Bush G, Whalen PJ, Rosen BR et al (1998) The counting Stroop: an interference task specialized for functional neuroimaging–validation study with functional MRI. Hum Brain Mapp 6:270–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Whalen PJ, Bush G, McNally RJ et al (1998) The emotional counting Stroop paradigm: a functional magnetic resonance imaging probe of the anterior cingulate affective division. Biol Psychiatry 44:1219–1228. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ochi G, Yamada Y, Hyodo K et al (2018) Neural basis for reduced executive performance with hypoxic exercise. Neuroimage 171:75–83. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Mull BR, Seyal M (2001) Transcranial magnetic stimulation of left prefrontal cortex impairs working memory. Clin Neurophysiol 112:1672–1675. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Physiological Society of Japan and Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Exercise Biochemistry and Neuroendocrinology, Faculty of Health and Sport SciencesUniversity of TsukubaTsukuba 305-8574Japan
  2. 2.Sports Neuroscience Division, Advanced Research Initiative for Human High Performance (ARIHHP), Faculty of Health and Sport SciencesUniversity of TsukubaTsukuba 305-8574Japan
  3. 3.Physical Fitness Research InstituteMeiji Yasuda Life Foundation of Health and WelfareTokyoJapan
  4. 4.Sports Research and Development CoreUniversity of TsukubaTsukuba 305-8574Japan

Personalised recommendations