Functional involvement of central nervous system at high altitude

Giacinta Miscio, Eva Milano, Juan Aguilar, Giulio Savia, Guglielmo Foffani, Alessandro Mauro, Laura Mordillo-Mateos, Javier Romero-Ganuza, Antonio Oliviero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Acute mountain sickness is a common discomfort experienced by unacclimatized persons on ascent to high altitude. We tested the hypothesis that exposure to high altitude affects cortical excitability using transcranial magnetic stimulation. We specifically analyzed the motor cortex excitability in normal subjects at high altitude and in a control condition near sea level. Mean resting motor threshold (RMT) was significantly higher at high altitude than at sea level (69.3 ± 10.4 versus 56.3 ± 10.9%; P = 0.042). Mean short intracortical inhibition (SICI) was significantly lower at high altitude than at sea level (percentage of test motor-evoked potential = 79.3 ± 19.8 versus 28.7 ± 17.5%; P = 0.0004). Symptoms of acute mountain sickness correlated with resting motor threshold changes induced by high altitude (R 2 = 0.53, P = 0.037). SaO2 correlated with SICI changes induced by high altitude (R 2 = 0.45, P = 0.036). We suggest that high altitude deeply changes cortical excitability by affecting both inhibitory and excitatory circuits and that this is reflected in acute mountain sickness symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-162
Number of pages6
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • Acute mountain sickness
  • GABA
  • Hypoxia
  • Motor cortex
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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