Selected scientific publications on diving medicine and physiology.

2012 Jun 6
The 'normobaric oxygen paradox': does it increase haemoglobin?
De Bels D, Theunissen S, Devriendt J, Germonpré P, Lafere P, Valsamis J, Snoeck T, Meeus P, Balestra C.

BACKGROUND: A novel approach to increasing erythropoietin (EPO) using oxygen (O2) (the 'normobaric oxygen paradox') has been reported in healthy volunteers. We investigated whether the EPO increase is sufficient to induce erythropoiesis by comparing two protocols of O2 administration. METHODS: We compared the effect of daily versus alternate days 100% O2, breathed for 30 minutes, on haemoglobin concentrations during a 12-day period. Nine subjects underwent the two protocols six weeks apart.

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2012 Dec 7
Pulsed high oxygen induces a hypoxic-like response in human umbilical endothelial cells and in humans
Cimino F, Balestra C, Germonpré P, De Bels D, Tillmans F, Saija A, Speciale A, Virgili F.

It has been proposed that relative changes of oxygen availability, rather than steady-state hypoxic or hyperoxic conditions, play an important role in hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) transcriptional effects. According to this hypothesis describing the "normobaric oxygen paradox", normoxia following a hyperoxic event is sensed by tissues as an oxygen shortage, upregulating HIF-1 activity. With the aim of confirming, at cellular and at functional level, that normoxia following a hyperoxic event is "interpreted" as a hypoxic event, we report a combination of experiments addressing the effects of an intermittent increase of oxygen concentration on HIF-1 levels and the activity level of specific oxygen-modulated proteins in cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells and the effects of hemoglobin levels after intermittent breathing of normobaric high (100%) and low (15%) oxygen in vivo in humans. Our experiments confirm that, during recovery after hyperoxia, an increase of HIF expression occurs in human umbilical vein endothelial cells, associated with an increase of matrix metalloproteinases activity. These data suggest that endothelial cells "interpret" the return to normoxia after hyperoxia as a hypoxic stimulus. At functional level, our data show that breathing both 15 and 100% oxygen 30 min every other day for a period of 10 days induces an increase of hemoglobin levels in humans. This effect was enhanced after the cessation of the oxygen breathing. These results indicate that a sudden decrease in tissue oxygen tension after hyperoxia may act as a trigger for erythropoietin synthesis, thus corroborating the hypothesis that "relative" hypoxia is a potent stimulator of HIF-mediated gene expressions.

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2012 Dec 12
Persistence of critical flicker fusion frequency impairment after a 33 mfw SCUBA dive: evidence of prolonged nitrogen narcosis?
Balestra C, Lafère P, Germonpré P.

One of the possible risks incurred while diving is inert gas narcosis (IGN), yet its mechanism of action remains a matter of controversy. Although providing insights in the basic mechanisms of IGN, research has been primarily limited to animal studies. A human study, in real diving conditions, was needed. Twenty volunteers within strict biometrical criteria (male, age 30-40 years, BMI 20-23, non smoker) were selected. They performed a no-decompression dive to a depth of 33 mfw for 20 min and were assessed by the means of critical flicker fusion frequency (CFFF) measurement before the dive, during the dive upon arriving at the bottom, 5 min before the ascent, and 30 min after surfacing. After this late measurement, divers breathed oxygen for 15 min and were assessed a final time. Compared to the pre-dive value the mean value of each measurement was significantly different (p < 0.001). An increase of CFFF to 104 ± 5.1 % upon arriving to the bottom is followed by a decrease to 93.5 ± 4.3 %. This impairment of CFFF persisted 30 min after surfacing, still decreased to 96.3 ± 8.2 % compared to pre-dive CFFF. Post-dive measures made after 15 min of oxygen were not different from control (without nitrogen supersaturation), 124.4 ± 10.8 versus 124.2 ± 3.9 %. This simple study suggests that IGN (at least partially) depends on gas-protein interactions and that the cerebral impairment persists for at least 30 min after surfacing. This could be an important consideration in situations where precise and accurate judgment or actions are essential.

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2013 Jun 6
Oxidative stress in breath-hold divers after repetitive dives
Theunissen S, Sponsiello N, Rozloznik M, Germonpré P, Guerrero F, Cialoni D, Balestra C.

INTRODUCTION: Hyperoxia causes oxidative stress. Breath-hold diving is associated with transient hyperoxia followed by hypoxia and a build-up of carbon dioxide (CO₂), chest-wall compression and significant haemodynamic changes. This study analyses variations in plasma oxidative stress markers after a series of repetitive breath-hold dives. METHODS: Thirteen breath-hold divers were asked to perform repetitive breath-hold dives to 20 metres' depth to a cumulative breath-hold time of approximately 20 minutes over an hour in the open sea. Plasma nitric oxide (NO), peroxinitrites (ONOO⁻) and thiols (R-SH) were measured before and after the dive sequence. RESULTS: Circulating NO significantly increased after successive breath-hold dives (169.1 ± 58.26% of pre-dive values; P = 0.0002). Peroxinitrites doubled after the dives (207.2 ± 78.31% of pre-dive values; P = 0.0012). Thiols were significantly reduced (69.88 ± 19.23% of pre-dive values; P = 0.0002). CONCLUSION: NO may be produced by physical effort during breath-hold diving. Physical exercise, the transient hyperoxia followed by hypoxia and CO₂ accumulation would all contribute to the increased levels of superoxide anions (O₂²⁻). Since interaction of O₂²⁻ with NO forms ONOO⁻, this reaction is favoured and the production of thiol groups is reduced. Oxidative stress is, thus, present in breath-hold diving.

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2013 Dec 3
Dark chocolate reduces endothelial dysfunction after successive breath-hold dives in cool water
Theunissen S, Schumacker J, Guerrero F, Tillmans F, Boutros A, Lambrechts K, Mazur A, Pieri M, Germonpré P, Balestra C.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study is to observe the effects of dark chocolate on endothelial function after a series of successive apnea dives in non-thermoneutral water...

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