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Into Thin Air
14 July 2015

Into Thin Air

Climbing in high altitudes is an extreme physical challenge, especially as our bodies must adjust to lower oxygen levels. Mountaineers quickly ascending to over 8,000 feet risk developing acute mountain sickness (AMS), and in severe cases high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), a potentially fatal condition in which fluid enters the brain, causing it to swell. The sections of a rat’s brain shown here highlight two molecules involved in this dramatic response to oxygen deprivation: in green CRFR-1, a signal receptor, and in red AQP4, a channel than allows water into brain cells (in blue are cell nuclei). Signalling through CRFR-1 is linked to cerebral oedema in multiple ways, including by affecting AQP4 channels to increase cells’ permeability to water. As yet, HACE symptoms can only be alleviated by returning to lower ground, but a better understanding of the molecules involved could help develop more targeted treatments or preventative measures.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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