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Respir Physiol. 2000 Jul;121(2-3):257-76.

Comparative human ventilatory adaptation to high altitude.

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Women's Health Research Center and the Cardiovascular Pulmonary Research Lab (Campus Box B133), University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 4200 East Ninth Avenue, Denver, CO 80262, USA.


Studies of ventilatory response to high altitudes have occupied an important position in respiratory physiology. This review summarizes recent studies in Tibetan high-altitude residents that collectively challenge the prior consensus that lifelong high-altitude residents ventilate less than acclimatized newcomers do as the result of acquired 'blunting' of hypoxic ventilatory responsiveness. These studies indicate that Tibetans ventilate more than Andean high-altitude natives residing at the same or similar altitudes (PET[CO(2)]) in Tibetans=29.6+/-0.8 vs. Andeans=31.0+/-1.0, P<0.0002 at approximately 4200 m), a difference which approximates the change that occurs between the time of acute hypoxic exposure to once ventilatory acclimatization has been achieved. Tibetans ventilate as much as acclimatized newcomers whereas Andeans ventilate less. However, the extent to which differences in hypoxic ventilatory response (HVR) are responsible is uncertain from existing data. Tibetans have an HVR as high as those of acclimatized newcomers whereas Andeans generally do not, but HVR is not consistently greater in comparisons of Tibetan versus Andean highland residents. Human and experimental animal studies demonstrate that inter-individual and genetic factors affect acute HVR and likely modify acclimatization and hyperventilatory response to high altitude. But the mechanisms responsible for ventilatory roll-off, hyperoxic hyperventilation, and acquired blunting of HVR are poorly understood, especially as they pertain to high-altitude residents. Developmental factors affecting neonatal arterial oxygenation are likely important and may vary between populations. Functional significance has been investigated with respect to the occurrence of chronic mountain sickness and intrauterine growth restriction for which, in both cases, low HVR seems disadvantageous. Additional studies are needed to address the various components of ventilatory control in native Tibetan, Andean and other lifelong high-altitude residents to decide the factors responsible for blunting HVR and diminishing ventilation in some native high-altitude residents.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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