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The study of individuals at high-altitude (HA) exposure provides an important opportunity for unraveling physiological and psychological mechanism of brain underlying hypoxia condition. However, this has rarely been assessed longitudinally. We aim to explore the cognitive and cerebral microstructural alterations after chronic HA exposure. We recruited 49 college freshmen who immigrated to Tibet and followed up for 2 years. Control group consisted of 49 gender and age-matched subjects from sea level. Neuropsychological tests were also conducted to determine whether the subjects' cognitive function had changed in response to chronic HA exposure. Surface-based cortical and subcortical volumes were calculated from structural magnetic resonance imaging data, and tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analysis of white matter (WM) fractional anisotropy (FA) based on diffusion weighted images were performed. Compared to healthy controls, the high-altitude exposed individuals showed significantly lower accuracy and longer reaction times in memory tests. Significantly decreased gray matter volume in the caudate region and significant FA changes in multiple WM tracts were observed for HA immigrants. Furthermore, differences in subcortical volume and WM integration were found to be significantly correlated with the cognitive changes after 2 years' HA exposure. Cognitive functions such as working memory and psychomotor function were found to be impaired during chronic HA. Differences of brain subcortical volumes and WM integration between HA and sea-level participants indicated potential impairments in the brain structural modifications and microstructural integrity of WM tracts after HA exposure.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Brain Mapp

Publication Date





4202 - 4212


cognition, fractional anisotropy, high-altitude exposure, subcortical volume, Adolescent, Altitude, Altitude Sickness, Anisotropy, Brain, Cognition, Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Emigrants and Immigrants, Female, Humans, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Tibet, Young Adult