Prevention of human diaphragm atrophy with short periods of electrical stimulation

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1999 Jun;159(6):2018-20. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.159.6.9806147.


We determined whether prolonged complete inactivation of the human diaphragm results in atrophy and whether this could be prevented by brief periods of electrical phrenic nerve stimulation. We studied a subject with high spinal cord injury who required removal of his left phrenic nerve pacemaker (PNP) and the reinstitution of positive-pressure ventilation for 8 mo. During this time, the right phrenic nerve was stimulated 30 min per day. Thickness of each diaphragm (tdi) was determined by ultrasonography. Maximal tidal volume (VT) was measured during stimulation of each diaphragm separately. After left PNP reimplantation, VT and tdi were measured just before the resumption of electrical stimulation and serially for 33 wk. On the previously nonfunctioning side, there were substantial changes in VT (from 220 to 600 ml) and tdi (from 0.18 to 0.34 cm). On the side that had been stimulated, neither VT nor tdi changed appreciably (VT from 770 to 900 ml; tdi from 0.25 to 0.28 cm). We conclude that prolonged inactivation of the diaphragm causes atrophy which may be prevented by brief periods of daily phrenic nerve stimulation.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Atrophy / prevention & control
  • Diaphragm / pathology*
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / instrumentation
  • Equipment Contamination
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phrenic Nerve / physiopathology
  • Respiration
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / surgery
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Tidal Volume / physiology