Rationale: It remains unclear how prone positioning improves survival in acute respiratory distress syndrome. Using serial computed tomography (CT), we previously reported that “unstable” inflation (i.e., partial aeration with large tidal density swings, indicating increased local strain) is associated with injury progression.
Objectives: We prospectively tested whether prone position contains the early propagation of experimental lung injury by stabilizing inflation.
Methods: Injury was induced by tracheal hydrochloric acid in rats; after randomization to supine or prone position, injurious ventilation was commenced using high tidal volume and low positive end-expiratory pressure. Paired end-inspiratory (EI) and end-expiratory (EE) CT scans were acquired at baseline and hourly up to 3 hours. Each sequential pair (EI, EE) of CT images was superimposed in parametric response maps to analyze inflation. Unstable inflation was then measured in each voxel in both dependent and nondependent lung. In addition, five pigs were imaged (EI and EE) prone versus supine, before and (1 hour) after hydrochloric acid aspiration.
Measurements and Main Results: In rats, prone position limited lung injury propagation and increased survival (11/12 vs. 7/12 supine; P = 0.01). EI-EE densities, respiratory mechanics, and blood gases deteriorated more in supine versus prone rats. At baseline, more voxels with unstable inflation occurred in dependent versus nondependent regions when supine (41 ± 6% vs. 18 ± 7%; P < 0.01) but not when prone. In supine pigs, unstable inflation predominated in dorsal regions and was attenuated by prone positioning.
Conclusions: Prone position limits the radiologic progression of early lung injury. Minimizing unstable inflation in this setting may alleviate the burden of acute respiratory distress syndrome.