Arterial oxygen desaturation during moderate hypoxia hinders sensorimotor performance

Jason M. Keeler, Jennifer B. Listman, M. Jo Hite, David J. Heeger, Erica Tourula, Nicholas L. Port, Zachary J. Schlader

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Moderate hypoxia may impact cognitive and sensorimotor performance prior to self-recognized impairments. Therefore, rapid and objective assessment tools to identify people at risk of impaired function during moderate hypoxia is needed. Purpose Test the hypothesis that reductions in arterial oxygen saturation during moderate normobaric hypoxia (FiO2 = 14%) decreases gamified sensorimotor performance as measured by alterations of motor acuity. Methods Following three consecutive days of practice, thirty healthy adults (25 ± 5 y, 10 females) completed three bouts of the tablet-based gamified assessment (Statespace Labs, Inc.) of motor acuity at Baseline and 60 and 90 min after exposure to 13.8 ± 0.2% (hypoxia) and 20.1 ± 0.4% (normoxia) oxygen. The gamified assessment involved moving the tablet to aim and shoot at targets. Both conditions were completed on the same day and were administered in a single-blind, block randomized manner. Performance metrics included shot time and shot variability. Arterial oxyhemoglobin saturation estimated via forehead pulse oximetry (SpO2). Data were analyzed using linear mixed effects models. Results Compared to normoxia (99±1%), SpO2 was lower (p<0.001) at 60 (89±3%) and 90 (90±2%) min of hypoxia. Shot time was unaffected by decreases in SpO2 (0.012, p = 0.19). Nor was shot time affected by the interaction between SpO2 decrease and baseline performance (0.006, p = 0.46). Shot variability was greater (i.e., less precision, worse performance) with decreases in SpO2 (0.023, p = 0.02) and depended on the interaction between SpO2 decrease and baseline performance (0.029, p< 0.01). Conclusion Decreases in SpO2 during moderate hypoxic exposure hinders sensorimotor performance via decreased motor acuity, i.e., greater variability (less precision) with no change in speed with differing decreases in SpO2. Thus, personnel who are exposed to moderate hypoxia and have greater decreases in SpO2 exhibit lower motor acuity, i.e., less precise movements even though decision time and movement speed are unaffected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0297486
JournalPloS one
Issue number2 February
StatePublished - Feb 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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