Alterations in cerebral blood flow and cerebrovascular reactivity during 14 days at 5050 m

Samuel J E Lucas*, Keith R. Burgess, Kate N. Thomas, Joseph Donnelly, Karen C. Peebles, Rebekah A I Lucas, Jui Lin Fan, James D. Cotter, Rishi Basnyat, Philip N. Ainslie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Upon ascent to high altitude, cerebral blood flow (CBF) rises substantially before returning to sea-level values. The underlying mechanisms for these changes are unclear. We examined three hypotheses: (1) the balance of arterial blood gases upon arrival at and across 2 weeks of living at 5050 m will closely relate to changes in CBF; (2) CBF reactivity to steady-state changes in CO2 will be reduced following this 2 week acclimatisation period, and (3) reductions in CBF reactivity to CO2 will be reflected in an augmented ventilatory sensitivity to CO2. We measured arterial blood gases, middle cerebral artery blood flow velocity (MCAv, index of CBF) and ventilation at rest and during steady-state hyperoxic hypercapnia (7% CO2) and voluntary hyperventilation (hypocapnia) at sea level and then again following 2-4, 7-9 and 12-15 days of living at 5050 m. Upon arrival at high altitude, resting MCAv was elevated (up 31 ± 31%; P < 0.01; vs. sea level), but returned to sea-level values within 7-9 days. Elevations in MCAv were strongly correlated (R2= 0.40) with the change in ratio (i.e. the collective tendency of arterial blood gases to cause CBF vasodilatation or constriction). Upon initial arrival and after 2 weeks at high altitude, cerebrovascular reactivity to hypercapnia was reduced (P < 0.05), whereas hypocapnic reactivity was enhanced (P < 0.05 vs. sea level). Ventilatory response to hypercapnia was elevated at days 2-4 (P < 0.05 vs. sea level, 4.01 ± 2.98 vs. 2.09 ± 1.32 l min-1 mmHg-1). These findings indicate that: (1) the balance of arterial blood gases accounts for a large part of the observed variability (∼40%) leading to changes in CBF at high altitude; (2) cerebrovascular reactivity to hypercapnia and hypocapnia is differentially affected by high-altitude exposure and remains distorted during partial acclimatisation, and (3) alterations in cerebrovascular reactivity to CO2 may also affect ventilatory sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)741-753
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


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