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Anesthesiology. 2002 Dec;97(6):1426-33.

Conventional mechanical ventilation is associated with bronchoalveolar lavage-induced activation of polymorphonuclear leukocytes: a possible mechanism to explain the systemic consequences of ventilator-induced lung injury in patients with ARDS.

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Department of Anaesthesia and Critical Care Program, Interdepartmental Division of Critical Care Medicine, St. Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto, 30 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1W8, Canada.



Protective ventilatory strategies have resulted in a decreased mortality rate in acute respiratory distress syndrome, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. The authors hypothesized that (1) mechanical ventilation modulates activation of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs), (2) the consequent release of proteinases is correlated with a systemic inflammatory response and with multiple organ dysfunction, and (3) these deleterious effects can be minimized by a protective ventilatory strategy.


Human PMNs were incubated with bronchoalveolar lavage fluid obtained from patients at entry or 36 h after randomization to ventilation with either a conventional (control) or a lung-protective strategy. PMN oxidant production and surface expression of adhesion molecules and granule markers, including CD18, CD63, and L-selectin, were measured by flow cytometry. Extracellular elastase activity was quantified using a fluorescent substrate.


Bronchoalveolar lavage obtained from both groups of patients at entry showed similar effects on PMN oxidant production and expression of surface markers. At 36 h, exposure of PMNs to bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from the control group resulted in increased PMN activation as manifested by a significant increase in oxidant production, CD18, and CD63 surface expression, and shedding of L-selectin. By contrast, these variables were unchanged at 36 h in the lung-protective group. There was a significant correlation between the changes of the variables and changes in interleukin-6 level and the number of failing organs.


Polymorphonuclear leukocytes can be activated by mechanical ventilation, and the consequent release of elastase was correlated with the degree of systemic inflammatory response and multiple organ failure. This result may possibly explain the decreased mortality in acute respiratory distress syndrome patients treated with a lung-protective strategy.

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