Gray matter blood flow change is unevenly distributed during moderate isocapnic hypoxia in humans

Andrew P. Binks, Vincent Joseph Cunningham, Lewis Adams, Robert B. Banzett

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92 Citations (Scopus)


Hypoxia increases cerebral blood flow (CBF), but it is unknown whether this increase is uniform across all brain regions. We used H-2 O-15 positron emission tomography imaging to measure absolute blood flow in 50 regions of interest across the human brain (n = 5) during normoxia and moderate hypoxia. PCO2 was kept constant (similar to 44 Torr) throughout the study to avoid decreases in CBF associated with the hypocapnia that normally occurs with hypoxia. Breathing was controlled by mechanical ventilation. During hypoxia (inspired PO2 = 70 Torr), mean end-tidal PO2 fell to 45 +/- 6.3 Torr (means +/- SD). Mean global CBF increased from normoxic levels of 0.39 +/- 0.13 to 0.45 +/- 0.13 ml/g during hypoxia. Increases in regional CBF were not uniform and ranged from 9.9 +/- 8.6% in the occipital lobe to 28.9 +/- 10.3% in the nucleus accumbens. Regions of interest that were better perfused during normoxia generally showed a greater regional CBF response. Phylogenetically older regions of the brain tended to show larger vascular responses to hypoxia than evolutionary younger regions, e. g., the putamen, brain stem, thalamus, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, and pallidum received greater than average increases in blood flow, while cortical regions generally received below average increases. The heterogeneous blood flow distribution during hypoxia may serve to protect regions of the brain with essential homeostatic roles. This may be relevant to conditions such as altitude, breath-hold diving, and obstructive sleep apnea, and may have implications for functional brain imaging studies that involve hypoxia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-217
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008


  • stroke
  • altitude
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • carbon-dioxide
  • nitric-oxide
  • cerebrovascular response
  • step changes
  • brain
  • rat
  • oxygen
  • vasodilation
  • hypercapnia
  • tomography


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