Lung protective ventilation aims at limiting lung stress and strain. By reducing the amount of pressure transmitted by the ventilator into the lungs, diaphragm neurostimulation offers a promising approach to minimize ventilator-induced lung injury. This study investigates the physiologic effects of diaphragm neurostimulation in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients. The hypothesis was that diaphragm neurostimulation would improve oxygenation, would limit the distending pressures of the lungs, and would improve cardiac output.


Patients with moderate ARDS were included after 48 h of invasive mechanical ventilation and had a left subclavian catheter placed to deliver bilateral transvenous phrenic nerve stimulation. Two 60-min volume-controlled mechanical ventilation (control) sessions were interspersed by two 60-min diaphragm neurostimulation sessions delivered continually, in synchrony with the ventilator. Gas exchange, lung mechanics, chest electrical impedance tomography, and cardiac index were continuously monitored and compared across four sessions. The primary endpoint was the Pao2/fraction of inspired oxygen (Fio2) ratio at the end of each session, and the secondary endpoints were lung mechanics and hemodynamics.


Thirteen patients were enrolled but the catheter could not be inserted in one, leaving 12 patients for analysis. All sessions were conducted without interruption and well tolerated. The Pao2/Fio2 ratio did not change during the four sessions. Median (interquartile range) plateau pressure was 23 (20 to 31) cm H2O and 21 (17 to 25) cm H2O, driving pressure was 14 (12 to 18) cm H2O and 11 (10 to 13) cm H2O, and end-inspiratory transpulmonary pressure was 9 (5 to 11) cm H2O and 7 (4 to 11) cm H2O during mechanical ventilation alone and during mechanical ventilation + neurostimulation session, respectively. The dorsal/ventral ventilation surface ratio was 0.70 (0.54 to 0.91) when on mechanical ventilation and 1.20 (0.76 to 1.33) during the mechanical ventilation + neurostimulation session. The cardiac index was 2.7 (2.3 to 3.5) l · min–1 · m–2 on mechanical ventilation and 3.0 (2.4 to 3.9) l · min–1 · m–2 on mechanical ventilation + neurostimulation.


This proof-of-concept study showed the feasibility of short-term diaphragm neurostimulation in conjunction with mechanical ventilation in ARDS patients. Diaphragm neurostimulation was associated with positive effects on lung mechanics and on hemodynamics.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Lung-protective ventilation in acute lung injury limiting stress, strain, and ventilator-associated inspiratory pressure is commonly employed. Despite these efforts, ventilator-induced lung injury still occurs.
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • Diaphragmatic neurostimulation in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients in conjunction with mechanical ventilation in ARDS patients was associated with beneficial effects on lung mechanics and hemodynamics. Further studies are needed to evaluate the potential clinical use of this adjunctive therapy.