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Cerebrovascular reactivity among native-raised high altitude residents: an fMRI study

Xiaodan Yan134*, Jiaxing Zhang12*, Qiyong Gong5 and Xuchu Weng1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory for Higher Brain Function, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

2 Department of Physiology, Medical College of Xiamen University, Xiamen, China

3 Cognitive Science Department, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, USA

4 Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, USA

5 Huaxi Magnetic Resonance Research Center, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China

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BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:94  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-94

Published: 26 September 2011



The impact of long term residence on high altitude (HA) on human brain has raised concern among researchers in recent years. This study investigated the cerebrovascular reactivity among native-born high altitude (HA) residents as compared to native sea level (SL) residents. The two groups were matched on the ancestral line, ages, gender ratios, and education levels. A visual cue guided maximum inspiration task with brief breath holding was performed by all the subjects while Blood-Oxygenation-Level-Dependent (BOLD) functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data were acquired from them.


Compared to SL controls, the HA group showed generally decreased cerebrovascular reactivity and longer delay in hemodynamic response. Clusters showing significant differences in the former aspect were located at the bilateral primary motor cortex, the right somatosensory association cortex, the right thalamus and the right caudate, the bilateral precuneus, the right cingulate gyrus and the right posterior cingulate cortex, as well as the left fusiform gyrus and the right lingual cortex; clusters showing significant differences in the latter aspect were located at the precuneus, the insula, the superior frontal and temporal gyrus, the somatosensory cortex (the postcentral gyrus) and the cerebellar tonsil. Inspiratory reserve volume (IRV), which is an important aspect of pulmonary function, demonstrated significant correlation with the amount of BOLD signal change in multiple brain regions, particularly at the bilateral insula among the HA group.


Native-born HA residents generally showed reduced cerebrovascular reactivity as demonstrated in the hemodynamic response during a visual cue guided maximum inspiration task conducted with BOLD-fMRI. This effect was particularly manifested among brain regions that are typically involved in cerebral modulation of respiration.