Ancestry explains the blunted ventilatory response to sustained hypoxia and lower exercise ventilation of Quechua altitude natives

Tom D. Brutsaert, Esteban J. Parra, Mark D. Shriver, Alfredo Gamboa, Maria Rivera-Ch, Fabiola León-Velarde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Andean high-altitude (HA) natives have a low (blunted) hypoxic ventilatory response (HVR), lower effective alveolar ventilation, and lower ventilation (VE) at rest and during exercise compared with acclimatized newcomers to HA. Despite blunted chemosensitivity and hypoventilation, Andeans maintain comparable arterial O2 saturation (SaO2). This study was designed to evaluate the influence of ancestry on these trait differences. At sea level, we measured the HVR in both acute (HVR-A) and sustained (HVR-S) hypoxia in a sample of 32 male Peruvians of mainly Quechua and Spanish origins who were born and raised at sea level. We also measured resting and exercise VE after 10-12 h of exposure to altitude at 4,338 m. Native American ancestry proportion (NAAP) was assessed for each individual using a panel of 80 ancestry-informative molecular markers (AIMs). NAAP was inversely related to HVR-S after 10 min of isocapnic hypoxia (r = -0.36, P = 0.04) but was not associated with HVR-A. In addition, NAAP was inversely related to exercise VE (r = -0.50, P = 0.005) and ventilatory equivalent (VE/V̇O2, r = -0.51, P = 0.004) measured at 4,338 m. Thus Quechua ancestry may partly explain the well-known blunted HVR (10, 35, 36, 57, 62) at least to sustained hypoxia, and the relative exercise hypoventilation at altitude of Andeans compared with European controls. Lower HVR-S and exercise VE could reflect improved gas exchange and/or attenuated chemoreflex sensitivity with increasing NAAP. On the basis of these ancestry associations and on the fact that developmental effects were completely controlled by study design, we suggest both a genetic basis and an evolutionary origin for these traits in Quechua.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R225-R234
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number1 58-1
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Admixture
  • Andes
  • Arterial saturation
  • Genetic markers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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