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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1992 Jun;72(6):2238-43.

Brain adaptation to chronic hypobaric hypoxia in rats.

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Department of Neurology, University Hospitals, Cleveland, Ohio.


Rats were exposed to hypobaric hypoxia (0.5 atm) for up to 3 wk. Hypoxic rats failed to gain weight but maintained normal brain water and ion content. Blood hematocrit was increased by 48% to a level of 71% after 3 wk of hypoxia compared with littermate controls. Brain blood flow was increased by an average of 38% in rats exposed to 15 min of 10% normobaric oxygen and by 23% after 3 h but was not different from normobaric normoxic rats after 3 wk of hypoxia. Sucrose space, as a measure of brain plasma volume, was not changed under any hypoxic conditions. The mean brain microvessel density was increased by 76% in the frontopolar cerebral cortex, 46% in the frontal motor cortex, 54% in the frontal sensory cortex, 65% in the parietal motor cortex, 68% in the parietal sensory cortex, 68% in the hippocampal CA1 region, 57% in the hippocampal CA3 region, 26% in the striatum, and 56% in the cerebellum. The results indicate that hypoxia elicits three main responses that affect brain oxygen availability. The acute effect of hypoxia is an increase in regional blood flow, which returns to control levels on continued hypoxic exposure. Longer-term effects of continued moderate hypoxic exposure are erythropoiesis and a decrease in intercapillary distance as a result of angiogenesis. The rise in hematocrit and the increase in microvessel density together increase oxygen availability to the brain to within normal limits, although this does not imply that tissue PO2 is restored to normal.

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