It has still not been shown unequivocally whether a decrement of arterial oxygen content or tension governs the ventilatory response to hypoxia. In an attempt to discriminate between the two possibilities, we have measured the ventilatory response to isocapnic progressive hypoxia in two healthy children with a high oxygen affinity hemoglobin (Hb Andrew-Minneapolis) and in their age- and sex-matched normal siblings. Hypoxic ventilatory response was identical in all subjects, there being no difference in minute ventilation at PAo2 = 40 mm Hg or in k (decrement of PO2 required to increase ventilation by a factor of 2.718). In contrast, at PAo2 = 40 mm Hg, hemoglobin oxygen saturation decreased markedly in controls but only slightly in high affinity subjects. Furthermore the increase in heart rate at PAo2 = 40 mm Hg was significantly less in high affinity subjects, suggesting a concomitant difference in oxygen delivery. Thus, with identical decrements in PAo2 but widely divergent changes in arterial oxygen content and oxygen delivery, controls and high affinity subjects showed virtually identical ventilatory response to hypoxia. We conclude that decrements of oxygen tension are the major stimulus for hypoxic ventilatory response.
R P Hebbel, R S Kronenberg, J W Eaton