Neurovascular Mechanisms of Intermittent Hypoxia Induced Neural Plasticity

Project: Research project

Project Details


Acute intermittent hypoxia (AIH) is an emerging therapy for improving movement in people with spinal cord injury (SCI). During AIH, an individual breathes different gas mixtures through a mask for about 30 minutes, alternating between “normal air” and air with approximately half as much oxygen as usual. This therapy has been shown to improve walking speed, breathing, and hand dexterity in people with SCI for several hours. However, the effectiveness of this therapy varies across individuals. It is critical that we better understand how AIH works in order to optimize the benefits of this therapy for different patients. We propose to use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to better understand the mechanisms of AIH therapy. We will invite 30 people with SCI and 30 able-bodied people to participate in this study. Each person will undergo two MRI scans, one immediately before AIH, and an identical scan 1-hour after AIH. We will use an AIH protocol that has already been shown to improve motor function in people with SCI. The therapeutic effect of AIH in each person will be quantified by measuring the maximum gripping force of each hand before and after the therapy. During the MRI sessions we will collect functional scans, which are comprised of a series of rapid images that we put together to form a “movie” of brain activity. In one scan, we will look at blood vessels getting bigger and smaller in response to the person holding their breath. In another, we will ask the participant to squeeze their hands at certain times and measure changes in neural activity in the brain and spinal cord. Finally, we will scan the participant while resting, to look at how connected brain regions communicate. Together, these scans will reveal how AIH changes the neural and vascular properties of the brain and spinal cord. Our results will help explain the variability in how each person responds to AIH, and give us tools for optimizing the AIH dose for individual patients.
Effective start/end date7/31/197/30/22


  • Craig H. Neilsen Foundation (595499)


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