Previous studies have suggested a genetic component in susceptibility to hypoxia-induced pulmonary hypertension. We therefore estimated the prevalence of high-altitude pulmonary hypertension (HAPH) in a Kyrgyz population and whether the insertion/deletion (I/D) polymorphism of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) gene associates with HAPH. An electrocardiographic survey of 741 highlanders demonstrated electrocardiogram signs of cor pulmonale in 14% of subjects. Pulmonary artery hemodynamics measured in an independent group of 136 male highlanders with symptoms of dyspnea at altitude revealed established pulmonary hypertension (mean pulmonary artery pressure [MPAP] > or = 25 mm Hg) in 20%. However, 26% of the normal subjects demonstrated an exaggerated response (twofold or greater increase in MPAP) to inhalation of 11% oxygen, and were classified as hyperresponsive. Ten-year follow-up of this group revealed increases in the MPAP, but not in normal subjects. Comparison of ACE I/D genotypes in the catheterized group revealed a threefold higher frequency of the I/I genotype in highlanders with HAPH, compared with normal highlanders (chi2 = 11.59, p = 0.003). In addition, MPAP was higher in highlanders with the I/I genotype (26.9 +/- 4.0 mm Hg) compared with the I/D genotype (20.6 +/- 1.2 mm Hg) or the D/D genotype (18.3 +/- 0.9 mm Hg) (p < 0.05). We conclude that HAPH is associated with ACE I/D genotype among Kyrgyz highlanders and the development of HAPH in this population and may be predicted by hyperresponsiveness to acute hypoxia.