Plasma fatty acid changes and increased lipid peroxidation in patients with adult respiratory distress syndrome

Crit Care Med. 1996 Feb;24(2):241-6. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199602000-00010.


Objective: There is a strong evidence that adult patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) are under severe oxidative stress, which leads to molecular damage. Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, our objective was to sequentially monitor changes, in intensive care unit (ICU) patients, characteristic of the oxidative loss of plasma unsaturated fatty acids and formation of the highly specific oxidation product of linoleic acid, 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal.

Design: Prospective, nonintervention, descriptive study. Limited statistics were applied to facilitate interpretation of the data.

Setting: ICU of a postgraduate teaching hospital.

Patients: Eighteen critically ill patients with an established diagnosis of ARDS requiring high FIO2 administered by mechanical ventilation were compared with ten normal, healthy controls and ten patients pre- and postcardiopulmonary bypass surgery at risk for developing ARDS.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and main results: Sixty percent of the patients with ARDS included in this study survived. Major changes in the plasma concentrations of fatty acids occurred in all patients during their stay in the ICU. Percentage decreases in plasma linoleic acid concentrations were accompanied by increases in plasma oleic and palmitoleic acid concentrations. Circulating linoleic acid concentrations were significantly (p = .0001) lower in patients with ARDS than in the two control groups. The patients with ARDS who did not survive had lower (p = .0056) plasma oleic acid values than normal healthy controls and patients at risk for ARDs as a consequence of undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. Changes in palmitoleic acid, however, did not reach significance within the different groups studied. Patients with ARDS showed higher plasma concentrations of 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (0.433 +/- 0.048 vs. 0.523 +/- 0.069 nmol/mL plasma for survivors and nonsurvivors, respectively) when compared with normal healthy controls (0.205 +/- 0.03 nmol/mL, p = 0.0001) and cardiopulmonary bypass patients at risk for developing ARDS (0.279 +/- 0.027 nmol/mL, p = .034 prebypass).

Conclusions: During intensive care treatment, patients with ARDS decrease their percentage plasma concentrations of total plasma linoleic acid, but increase their percentage concentrations of oleic and palmitoleic acids. As plasma linoleic acid concentrations decreased, there was usually an increase in plasma 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal values, one of its specific peroxidation products, suggestive of severe oxidative stress leading to molecular damage to lipids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aldehydes / blood*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Fatty Acids / blood*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Length of Stay
  • Lipid Peroxidation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Rate


  • Aldehydes
  • Fatty Acids
  • 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal