Cellular hypoxia triggers a homeostatic increase in mitochondrial free radical signaling. In this study, blood was obtained from the radial artery and jugular venous bulb in 10 men during normoxia and 9 hours hypoxia (12.9% O(2)). Mitochondrial oxygen tension (p(O(2))(mit)) was derived from cerebral blood flow and blood gases. The ascorbate radical (A(•-)) was detected by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy and neuron-specific enolase (NSE), a biomarker of neuronal injury, by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Hypoxia increased the cerebral output of A(•-) in proportion to the reduction in p(O(2))(mit), but did not affect NSE exchange. These findings suggest that neuro-oxidative stress may constitute an adaptive response.