Identification of Cattle at Risk of High Altitude Pulmonary Hypertension


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Timothy Holt
John Newman
Rizwan Hamid
John A Phillips
Joy Cogan

At A Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University in collaboration with Vanderbilt University have discovered and patented a method of identifying cattle having (or are at risk of) High Altitude Pulmonary Hypertension (HAPH) – often referred to as “brisket disease.”  Genetic screening of the HAPH gene by DNA analysis can provide ranchers the appropriate identification of animals intolerant to high altitude, and thusly, the ability to intervene and subsequently remove such animals from difficult environments.  Further, the test can be used as a diagnostic or a prognostic test for use prior to shipping cattle to higher elevations or in breeding operations.


Reference No.: 14-117


High mountain disease (brisket disease) is right heart failure due to pulmonary hypertension in cattle residing at high altitude. Pulmonary hypertension is defined as mean pressure in the pulmonary circulation greater than 25 mmHg. If pulmonary hypertension is severe or prolonged, the right ventricle is unable to pump effectively and heart failure ensues with loss of the animal.

Hypoxia is the most potent stimulus for pulmonary hypertension and the hypoxia of high altitude (>7000 ft) is a well known cause. Some cattle (Bos taurus) have a genetic susceptibility to severe high altitude pulmonary hypertension (HAPH) that is heritable. While most cattle thrive at high altitude, susceptible cattle develop pulmonary hypertension that is sufficient to cause right heart failure, edema of the brisket, and death.

HAPH in cattle occurs in about 15% of animals brought to high altitude (>7000 ft) to replenish herds, and costs ranchers millions of dollars of lost income each year.  Current predictive tests for at-risk cattle is a measure of pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP).  This current PAP test has major drawbacks: (1) it is an invasive test; and (2) it is not accurate at lower elevations – so at-risk cattle cannot be identified before incurring the cost of transport to high altitude.

There is no treatment for the disease except prompt removal of the animal to lower elevations.


  • Test is not invasive (unlike current standard)
  • Able to identify at risk animals at low elevations
  • Can be used as a diagnostic at elevation or prognostic test prior to shipping animals or in breeding operations
  • Highly accurate method


  • Identification of cattle having High Altitude Pulmonary Hypertension (HAPH) – referred to as “brisket disease” 


Last updated: Sept 2021