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Ventilator management in acute respiratory distress syndrome usually focuses on setting parameters, but events occurring at ventilator disconnection are not well understood.To determine if abrupt deflation after sustained inflation causes lung injury.Male Sprague-Dawley rats were ventilated (low VT, 6 ml/kg) and randomized to control (n = 6; positive end-expiratory pressure [PEEP], 3 cm H2O; 100 min) or intervention (n = 6; PEEP, 3-11 cm H2O over 70 min; abrupt deflation to zero PEEP; ventilation for 30 min). Lung function and injury was assessed, scanning electron microscopy performed, and microvascular leak timed by Evans blue dye (n = 4/group at 0, 2, 5, 10, and 20 min after deflation). Hemodynamic assessment included systemic arterial pressure (n = 6), echocardiography (n = 4), and right (n = 6) and left ventricular pressures (n = 6).Abrupt deflation after sustained inflation (vs. control) caused acute lung dysfunction (compliance 0.48 ± 1.0 vs. 0.82 ± 0.2 m/cm H2O, oxygen saturation as measured by pulse oximetry 67 ± 23.5 vs. 91 ± 4.4%; P < 0.05) and injury (wet/dry ratio 6.1 ± 0.6 vs. 4.6 ± 0.4; P < 0.01). Vascular leak was absent before deflation and maximal 5-10 minutes thereafter; injury was predominantly endothelial. At deflation, left ventricular preload, systemic blood pressure, and left ventricular end-diastolic pressure increased precipitously in proportion to the degree of injury. Injury caused later right ventricular failure. Sodium nitroprusside prevented the increase in systemic blood pressure and left ventricular end-diastolic pressure associated with deflation, and prevented injury. Injury did not occur with gradual deflation.Abrupt deflation after sustained inflation can cause acute lung injury. It seems to be mediated by acute left ventricular decompensation (caused by increased left ventricular preload and afterload) that elevates pulmonary microvascular pressure; this directly injures the endothelium and causes edema, which is potentiated by the surge in pulmonary perfusion.