Red blood cells appear to have an ability to remember being exposed to hypoxia at high altitudes.

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This ‘memory’ enables the body to more readable adjust to high altitudes again, according to a new study from an International Research Group.

Many of the adjustments that occur in the body involve the substance adenosine that, among other things, dilate the blood vessels.

A protein on the red blood cells are broken down when we are exposed to high altitudes, it effectively cancels the absorption of adenosine by the red blood cells, which is stored in the body.

The next time the body is exposed to high altitudes, the protein is already degraded in the red blood cells and the adenosine accumulates faster. Thus, the body responds faster to declining oxygen levels.

This ‘memory’ is however only active until the old red blood cells are replaced with new cells. Since the production of red blood cells is continuous in the body, and they last about 120 days, the adaptation is, therefore, active about for about four months.

Anren Song, Yujin Zhang, Yang Xia Erythrocytes retain hypoxic adenosine response for faster acclimatization upon re-ascent. Nature Communications February 7, 2017. DOI: 10.1038 / ncomms14108