JOURNAL OF APPLIED PHYSIOLOGY, vol.102, no.6, pp.2179-2185, 2007 (SCI-Expanded)
We previously reported in weanling guinea pigs raised at high altitude (HA; 3,800 m) an elevated lung diffusing capacity estimated by morphometry from alveolar-capillary surface area, harmonic mean blood-gas barrier thickness, and pulmonary capillary blood volume (Vc) compared with litter-matched control animals raised at an intermediate altitude (IA; 1,200 m) (Hsia CCW. Polo Carbayo JJ. Yan X, Bellotto DJ. Respir Physiol Neurobiol 147: 105-115. 2005). To determine if HA-induced alveolar ultrastructural changes are associated with improved alveolar function, we measured lung diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (D-LCO)), membrane diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (D-LCO), Vc, pulmonary blood flow, and lung volume by a rebreathing technique in litter-matched male weanling Hartley guinea pigs raised at HA or IA for 4 or 12 mo. Separate control animals were also raised and studied at sea level (SL). Resting measurements were obtained in the conscious nonsedated state. In HA animals compared with corresponding IA or SL controls, lung volume and hematocrit were significantly higher while pulmonary blood flow was lower. At a C. given pulmonary, blood flow, DLCO and D-MCO were higher in HA-raised animals than in control animals without a significant change in Vc. We conclude that 1) HA residence enhanced physiological diffusing capacity corresponding to that previously estimated on the basis of structural adaptation, 2) adaptation in diffusing capacity and its components should be interpreted with respect to pulmonary blood flow, and 3) this noninvasive rebreathing technique could be used to follow adaptive responses in small animals.