The function of lung and blood neutrophils in patients with the adult respiratory distress syndrome. Implications for the pathogenesis of lung infections

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1991 Aug;144(2):254-62. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/144.2.254.


Pulmonary infections are a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with the adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), but the reason is uncertain. Because neutrophils are important for lung defense and are found in increased numbers in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of patients with ARDS, we compared the functional activities of neutrophils obtained from lavage fluid and pulmonary artery blood of 28 patients shortly after the onset of ARDS. The lavage fluids contained 81.3 +/- 9.9% neutrophils, of which more than 95% were viable by vital dye exclusion, and the total protein concentrations were increased (98.8 +/- 98.5 mg/dl). The production of superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide by the neutrophils in lavage fluid was significantly impaired compared with simultaneously tested pulmonary artery and normal neutrophils, and the microbicidal activity of the lavage neutrophils for Staphylococcus aureus was significantly impaired. The migration of alveolar neutrophils in response to a variety of stimuli was markedly reduced as compared with both pulmonary artery and normal neutrophils. The alterations in superoxide anion production and chemotaxis could be reproduced by exposure of normal neutrophils to oxidants (glucose:glucose oxidase), but not to other mediators that have been found in ARDS lavage fluids. Although the pulmonary artery neutrophils from the same patients had impaired production of superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide, their microbicidal activity and chemotactic responses were normal. These findings indicate that the function of alveolar neutrophils is impaired in the lungs of patients with ARDS. This could contribute to the high incidence of pulmonary infections in these patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Bactericidal Activity / immunology
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / cytology
  • Chemotaxis / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutrophils / physiology*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / immunology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / etiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology
  • Superoxides / metabolism


  • Superoxides
  • Hydrogen Peroxide