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The human pulmonary vasculature vasoconstricts in response to a reduction in alveolar oxygen tension, a phenomenon termed hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction (HPV). This review describes the time course of this behavior, which occurs in distinct phases, and then explores the importance for HPV of the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway. Next, the HIF-hydroxylase enzymes that act as molecular oxygen sensors within the HIF pathway are discussed. These enzymes are particularly sensitive to intracellular iron availability, which confers iron-sensing properties on the HIF pathway. Human studies of iron chelation and supplementation are then reviewed. These demonstrate that the iron sensitivity of the HIF pathway evident from in vitro experiments is relevant to human pulmonary vascular physiology. Next, the importance of iron status in high-altitude illness and chronic cardiopulmonary disease is explored, and the therapeutic potential of intravenous iron discussed. The review concludes by highlighting some further complexities that arise from interactions between the HIF pathway and other intracellular iron-sensing mechanisms.

Original publication




Journal article


J Appl Physiol (1985)

Publication Date





1421 - 1431


high-altitude illness, hypoxia, hypoxia-inducible factor, hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, iron, Altitude Sickness, Animals, Humans, Hypoxia, Iron, Oxygen Consumption, Pulmonary Circulation, Vasoconstriction