Hypoxia and brain aging: Neurodegeneration or neuroprotection?

Johannes Burtscher, Robert T. Mallet, Martin Burtscher, Grégoire P. Millet

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


The absolute reliance of the mammalian brain on oxygen to generate ATP renders it acutely vulnerable to hypoxia, whether at high altitude or in clinical settings of anemia or pulmonary disease. Hypoxia is pivotal to the pathogeneses of myriad neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Conversely, reduced environmental oxygen, e.g. sojourns or residing at high altitudes, may impart favorable effects on aging and mortality. Moreover, controlled hypoxia exposure may represent a treatment strategy for age-related neurological disorders. This review discusses evidence of hypoxia's beneficial vs. detrimental impacts on the aging brain and the molecular mechanisms that mediate these divergent effects. It draws upon an extensive literature search on the effects of hypoxia/altitude on brain aging, and detailed analysis of all identified studies directly comparing brain responses to hypoxia in young vs. aged humans or rodents. Special attention is directed toward the risks vs. benefits of hypoxia exposure to the elderly, and potential therapeutic applications of hypoxia for neurodegenerative diseases. Finally, important questions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101343
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Aging
  • Dementia
  • HIF
  • Hippocampus
  • Intermittent hypoxia
  • Mitochondria


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