Physiological changes and compensatory mechanisms by the action of respiratory muscles in a porcine model of phrenic nerve injury

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2021 Mar 1;130(3):813-826. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00781.2020. Epub 2021 Jan 14.


Phrenic nerve damage may occur as a complication of specific surgical procedures, prolonged mechanical ventilation, or physical trauma. The consequent diaphragmatic paralysis or dysfunction can lead to major complications. The purpose of this study was to elucidate the role of the nondiaphragmatic respiratory muscles during partial or complete diaphragm paralysis induced by unilateral and bilateral phrenic nerve damage at different levels of ventilatory pressure support in an animal model. Ten pigs were instrumented, the phrenic nerve was exposed from the neck, and spontaneous respiration was preserved at three levels of pressure support, namely, high, low, and null, at baseline condition, after left phrenic nerve damage, and after bilateral phrenic nerve damage. Breathing pattern, thoracoabdominal volumes and asynchrony, and pressures were measured at each condition. Physiological breathing was predominantly diaphragmatic and homogeneously distributed between right and left sides. After unilateral damage, the paralyzed hemidiaphragm was passively dragged by the ipsilateral rib cage muscles and the contralateral hemidiaphragm. After bilateral damage, the drive to and the work of breathing of rib cage and abdominal muscles increased, to compensate for diaphragmatic paralysis, ensuing paradoxical thoracoabdominal breathing. Increasing level of pressure support ventilation replaces this muscle group compensation. When the diaphragm is paralyzed (unilaterally and/or bilaterally), there is a coordinated reorganization of nondiaphragmatic respiratory muscles as compensation that might be obscured by high level of pressure support ventilation. Noninvasive thoracoabdominal volume and asynchrony assessment could be useful in phrenic nerve-injured patients to estimate the extent and type of inspiratory muscle dysfunction.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This was the first (to our knowledge) implanted porcine model of phrenic nerve injury with a detailed multidimensional analysis of different degrees of diaphragmatic paralysis (unilateral and bilateral). Noninvasive thoracoabdominal volume and asynchrony assessment was shown to be useful in estimating the extent of diaphragmatic dysfunction and the consequent coordinated reorganization of nondiaphragmatic respiratory muscles. High level of pressure support ventilation was proved to obscure the interaction and compensation of respiratory muscles to deal with phrenic nerve injury.

Keywords: breathing asynchrony; diaphragmatic paralysis; optoelectronic plethysmography; pressure support; rib cage muscles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diaphragm
  • Humans
  • Intercostal Muscles
  • Phrenic Nerve*
  • Respiratory Muscles
  • Respiratory Paralysis*
  • Swine