Depending on the absolute altitude and the duration of exposure, a high altitude environment induces various cellular effects that are strictly related to changes in oxidative balance. In this study, we used in vitro isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes as biosensors to test the effect of hypobaric hypoxia on seven climbers by measuring the functional activity of these cells. Our data revealed that a 21-day exposure to high altitude (5000 m) (1) increased intracellular Ca(2+) concentration, (2) caused a significant decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential, and (3) despite possible transient increases in intracellular levels of reactive oxygen species, did not significantly change the antioxidant and/or oxidative damage-related status in lymphocytes and serum, assessed by measuring Trolox-equivalent antioxidant capacity, glutathione peroxidase activity, vitamin levels, and oxidatively modified proteins and lipids. Overall, these results suggest that high altitude might cause an impairment in adaptive antioxidant responses. This, in turn, could increase the risk of oxidative-stress-induced cellular damage. In addition, this study corroborates the use of peripheral blood lymphocytes as an easily handled model for monitoring adaptive response to environmental challenge.