Molecular mechanisms of chronic intermittent hypoxia and hypertension

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23 Scopus citations


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by episodes of repeated airway obstruction resulting in cessation (apnea) or reduction (hypopnea) in airflow during sleep. These events lead to intermittent hypoxia and hypercapnia, sleep fragmentation, and changes in intrathoracic pressure, and are associated with a marked surge in sympathetic activity and an abrupt increase in blood pressure. Blood pressure remains elevated during wakefulness despite the absence of obstructive events resulting in a high prevalence of hypertension in patients with OSA. There is substantial evidence that suggests that chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH) leads to sustained sympathoexcitation during the day and changes in vasculature resulting in hypertension in patients with OSA. Mechanisms of sympathoexcitation include augmentation of peripheral chemoreflex sensitivity and a direct effect on central sites of sympathetic regulation. Interestingly, the vascular changes that occur with CIH have been ascribed to the same molecules that have been implicated in the augmented sympathetic tone in CIH. This review will discuss the hypothesized molecular mechanisms involved in the development of hypertension with CIH, will build a conceptual model for the development of hypertension following CIH, and will propose a systems biology approach in further elucidating the relationship between CIH and the development of hypertension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-278
Number of pages14
JournalCritical reviews in biomedical engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biomedical Engineering


  • Chronic intermittent hypoxia
  • Hypertension
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Sympathoexcitation
  • Systems biology


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