Hypoxia pp 301-323 | Cite as

Hypoxia and Its Acid–Base Consequences: From Mountains to Malignancy

  • Erik R. SwensonEmail author
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 903)


Hypoxia, depending upon its magnitude and circumstances, evokes a spectrum of mild to severe acid–base changes ranging from alkalosis to acidosis, which can alter many responses to hypoxia at both non-genomic and genomic levels, in part via altered hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) metabolism. Healthy people at high altitude and persons hyperventilating to non-hypoxic stimuli can become alkalotic and alkalemic with arterial pH acutely rising as high as 7.7. Hypoxia-mediated respiratory alkalosis reduces sympathetic tone, blunts hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction and hypoxic cerebral vasodilation, and increases hemoglobin oxygen affinity. These effects and others can be salutary or counterproductive to tissue oxygen delivery and utilization, based upon magnitude of each effect and summation. With severe hypoxia either in the setting of profound arterial hemoglobin desaturation and reduced O2 content or poor perfusion (ischemia) at the global or local level, metabolic and hypercapnic acidosis develop along with considerable lactate formation and pH falling to below 6.8. Although conventionally considered to be injurious and deleterious to cell function and survival, both acidoses may be cytoprotective by various anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-apoptotic mechanisms which limit total hypoxic or ischemic–reperfusion injury. Attempts to correct acidosis by giving bicarbonate or other alkaline agents under these circumstances ahead of or concurrent with reoxygenation efforts may be ill advised. Better understanding of this so-called “pH paradox” or permissive acidosis may offer therapeutic possibilities. Rapidly growing cancers often outstrip their vascular supply compromising both oxygen and nutrient delivery and metabolic waste disposal, thus limiting their growth and metastatic potential. However, their excessive glycolysis and lactate formation may not necessarily represent oxygen insufficiency, but rather the Warburg effect—an attempt to provide a large amount of small carbon intermediates to supply the many synthetic pathways of proliferative cell growth. In either case, there is expression and upregulation of many genes involved in acid–base homeostasis, in part by HIF-1 signaling. These include a unique isoform of carbonic anhydrase (CA-IX) and numerous membrane acid–base transporters engaged to maintain an optimal intracellular and extracellular pH for maximal growth. Inhibition of these proteins or gene suppression may have important therapeutic application in cancer chemotherapy.


Hypoxia HIF pH regulation Alkalosis Acidosis Exercise Cancer Shock Ischemia Altitude Lactate Carbonic anhydrase 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Department of MedicineUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Physiology and BiophysicsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.VA Puget Sound Health Care SystemUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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