Autonomic regulation of heart rate and peripheral circulation: Comparison of high altitude and sea level residents

C. Passino, L. Bernardi, G. Spadacini, A. Calciati, R. Robergs, I. Anand, R. Greene, E. Martignoni, O. Appenzeller

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1. To evaluate the activity of the autonomic nervous system on the heart and peripheral circulation in native high-altitude residents, during a Himalayan expedition we studied 12 men (age: 48 ± 4, mean ± SEM), life-long resident in a village at 4800 m (Sumdo village, Zanskar, India) and 7 healthy sea-level residents (age: 37 ± 4) after 7 days of acclimatization (acclimatized lowlanders) at the same altitude. Furthermore 25 sea level residents (age: 46 ± 2) underwent the same protocol at sea level. 2. R-R interval (RR), respiratory signal, non-invasive blood pressure, and skin arteriolar blood flow were evaluated in three different conditions: during free breathing in supine position and during controlled breathing (at 0.15 Hz), in supine and upright position, and analysed by autoregressive spectral analysis [low- (around 0.1 Hz) and high-frequency (respiratory) fluctuations, LF and HF, markers of sympathetic and vagal activity, respectively]. 3. High-altitude residents showed in supine position a higher RR than acclimatized lowlanders, similar to sea-level residents. RR variability was reduced in acclimatized lowlanders compared to both high-altitude residents and sea level residents. Systolic blood pressure (SBP) did not show significant differences between the three groups. High altitude residents showed in supine lower LF in RR signal compared to sea-level residents, and, compared to acclimatized lowlanders, higher HF and lower LF/HF ratio; high-altitude residents showed a reduction in skin microcirculation variability compared to sea-level residents, but this was eight fold greater than in acclimatized lowlander, thus indicating a much greater vasoconstriction in acclimatized lowlanders than in high-altitude residents. 4. In upright position, high-altitude residents showed the same behaviour as sea-level residents, with increase in LF-RR, and decrease in HF and LF-SBP. Acclimatized lowlanders showed similar directional trends though not significant changes for RR-LF. 5. After one week of acclimatization, lowlanders still manifested sympathetic activation and skin vasoconstriction; high-altitude residents did not show reduced vagal tone compared to sea-level residents, but a mild vasoconstriction appeared to be present. In conclusion, normal or enhanced vagal tone and preserved vasomotion are probably evidence of adaptation at high altitude hypoxia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-83
Number of pages3
JournalClinical Science
Issue number1 SUPPL.
Publication statusPublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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