Lung fibrosis results from the synergic interplay between regenerative deficits of the alveolar epithelium and dysregulated mechanisms of repair in response to alveolar and vascular damage, which is followed by progressive fibroblast and myofibroblast proliferation and excessive deposition of the extracellular matrix. The increased parenchymal stiffness of fibrotic lungs significantly affects respiratory mechanics, making the lung more fragile and prone to non-physiological stress during spontaneous breathing and mechanical ventilation. Given their parenchymal inhomogeneity, fibrotic lungs may display an anisotropic response to mechanical stresses with different regional deformations (micro-strain). This behavior is not described by the standard stress-strain curve but follows the mechano-elastic models of "squishy balls", where the elastic limit can be reached due to the excessive deformation of parenchymal areas with normal elasticity that are surrounded by inelastic fibrous tissue or collapsed induration areas, which tend to protrude outside the fibrous ring. Increasing evidence has shown that non-physiological mechanical forces applied to fibrotic lungs with associated abnormal mechanotransduction could favor the progression of pulmonary fibrosis. With this review, we aim to summarize the state of the art on the relation between mechanical forces acting on the lung and biological response in pulmonary fibrosis, with a focus on the progression of damage in the fibrotic lung during spontaneous breathing and assisted ventilatory support.
Keywords: extra-cellular matrix; idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; lung compliance; lung elastance; lung fibrosis; mechanical ventilation; spontaneous breathing; strain; stress.