The pulmonary vasculature - lessons from Tibetans and from rare diseases of oxygen sensing.
Frise MC., Robbins PA.
The human pulmonary circulation loses its natural distensibility during sustained hypoxia, leading to pulmonary arterial hypertension and a much higher workload for the right ventricle. The hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway is implicated in this pulmonary vascular response to continued hypoxia by animal studies, and additionally, by rare human diseases where the pathway is upregulated. However, there are no known human genetic diseases downregulating HIF. Tibetans, though, demonstrate blunted pulmonary vascular responses to sustained hypoxia. This seems to be accounted for by an altered HIF pathway as a consequence of natural selection over a period of many thousands of years lived at high altitude. In addition to genetic differences, iron is another important modulator of HIF pathway function. Experimental work in humans demonstrates that manipulation of iron stores can influence the behaviour of the pulmonary circulation during hypoxia, in ways analogous to that seen in Tibetans and patients with rare diseases that affect oxygen sensing. The importance of physiological differences in iron bioavailability in modulating hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction in health and disease is yet to be established.