Multi-omics reveals age-related differences in the diaphragm response to mechanical ventilation: a pilot study

Skelet Muscle. 2021 May 3;11(1):11. doi: 10.1186/s13395-021-00267-4.


Background: Old age is associated with a significantly increased mortality in COVID-19 patients exposed to long-term controlled mechanical ventilation (CMV) and suggested to be due to the hyperinflammatory response associated with the viral infection. However, our understanding of age-related differences in the response to CMV in the absence of a viral infection remains insufficient.

Methods: Young (7-8 months) and old (28-32 months) F344 BN hybrid rats were exposed to the ICU condition for 5 days, i.e., complete immobilization, mechanical ventilation, and extensive monitoring. Transcriptomic (RNA-Seq) and proteomics (Proximity Extension Assay) analyses of the diaphragm and proteomics analysis of plasma were conducted to investigate the molecular differences between young and old rats exposed to the ICU condition.

Results: According to multi-omics analyses, significant differences were observed in the diaphragm between young and old rats in response to 5 days CMV and immobilization. In young rats, metabolic pathways were primarily downregulated in response to immobilization (post-synaptic blockade of neuromuscular transmission). In old rats, on the other hand, dramatic immune and inflammatory responses were observed, i.e., an upregulation of specific related pathways such as "IL-17 signaling pathway", along with a higher level of inflammatory factors and cytokine/chemokine in plasma.

Conclusions: The dramatically increased mortality in old ICU patients with COVID-19-associated hyperinflammation and cytokine storm need not only reflect the viral infection but may also be associated with the ventilator induced diaphragm dysfunction (VIDD) and hyperinflammatory responses induced by long-term CMV per se. Although mechanical ventilation is a life-saving intervention in COVID-19 ICU patients, CMV should be cautiously used especially in old age and other means of respiratory support may be considered, such as negative pressure ventilation.

Keywords: Age; COVID-19; Hyperinflammation; Mechanical ventilation; VIDD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Diaphragm / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Protein Interaction Maps
  • Proteome*
  • Proteomics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred BN
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcriptome*


  • Biomarkers
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Proteome