Hypoxia induces several responses at cardiovascular, pulmonary and reproductive levels, which may lead to chronic diseases. This is relevant in human populations exposed to high altitude (HA), in either chronic continuous (permanent inhabitants) or intermittent fashion (HA workers, tourists and mountaineers). In Chile, it is estimated that 1.000.000 people live at highlands and more than 55.000 work in HA shifts. Initial responses to hypoxia are compensatory and induce activation of cardioprotective mechanisms, such as those seen under intermittent hypobaric (IH) hypoxia, events that could mediate preconditioning. However, whenever hypoxia is prolonged, the chronic activation of cellular responses induces long-lasting modifications that may result in acclimatization or produce maladaptive changes with increase in cardiovascular risk. HA exposure during pregnancy induces hypoxia and oxidative stress, which in turn may promote cellular responses and epigenetic modifications resulting in severe impairment in growth and development. Sadly, this condition is accompanied with an increased fetal and neonatal morbi-mortality. Further, developmental hypoxia may program cardio-pulmonary circulations later in postnatal life, ending in vascular structural and functional alterations with augmented risk on pulmonary and cardiovascular failure. Additionally, permanent HA inhabitants have augmented risk and prevalence of chronic hypoxic pulmonary hypertension, right ventricular hypertrophy and cardiopulmonary remodeling. Similar responses are seen in adults that are intermittently exposed to chronic hypoxia (CH) such as shift workers in HA areas. The mechanisms involved determining the immediate, short and long-lasting effects are still unclear. For several years, the study of the responses to hypoxic insults and pharmacological targets has been the motivation of our group. This review describes some of the mechanisms underlying hypoxic responses and potential therapeutic approaches with antioxidants such as melatonin, ascorbate, omega 3 (Ω3) or compounds that increase the nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability.
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