Send to

Choose Destination
J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 1994 Jul;14(4):671-9.

The brain at high altitude: hypometabolism as a defense against chronic hypoxia?

Author information

Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


The brain of hypoxia-tolerant vertebrates is known to survive extreme limitations of oxygen in part because of very low rates of energy production and utilization. To assess if similar adaptations may be involved in humans during hypoxia adaptation over generational time, volunteer Quechua natives, indigenous to the high Andes between about 3,700 and 4,900 m altitude, served as subjects in positron emission tomographic measurements of brain regional glucose metabolic rates. Two metabolic states were analyzed: (a) the presumed normal (high altitude-adapted) state monitored as soon as possible after leaving the Andes and (b) the deacclimated state monitored after 3 weeks at low altitudes. Proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies of the Quechua brain found normal spectra, with no indication of any unusual lactate accumulation; in contrast, in hypoxia-tolerant species, a relatively large fraction of the glucose taken up by the brain is released as lactate. Positron emission tomographic measurements of [18F]2-deoxy-2-fluoro-D-glucose (FDG) uptake rates, quantified in 26 regions of the brain, indicated systematically lower region-by-region glucose metabolic rates in Quechuas than in lowlanders. The metabolic reductions were least pronounced in primitive brain structures (e.g., cerebellum) and most pronounced in regions classically associated with higher cortical functions (e.g., frontal cortex). These differences between Quechuas with lifetime exposure to hypobaric hypoxia and lowlanders, which seem to be expressed to some degree in most brain regions examined, may be the result of a defense adaptation against chronic hypoxia.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center