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Recruitment maneuver and positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) can be used to counteract intraoperative anesthesia-induced atelectasis. Variable ventilation can stabilize lung mechanics by avoiding the monotonic tidal volume and protect lung parenchyma as tidal recruitment is encompassed within the tidal volume variability.Forty-nine (7 per group) male Wistar rats were anesthetized, paralyzed, and mechanically ventilated. A recruitment maneuver followed by stepwise decremental PEEP titration was performed while continuously estimating respiratory system mechanics using recursive least squares. After a new recruitment, animals were ventilated for 2 hours in volume-control with monotonic (VCV) or variable (VV) tidal volumes. PEEP was adjusted at a level corresponding to the minimum elastance or 2 cm H2O above or below this level. Lungs were harvested for histologic analysis (left lung) and cytokines measurement (right lung). Seven animals were euthanized before the first recruitment as controls.A time-dependent increase in respiratory system elastance was observed and significantly minimized by PEEP (P < .001). Variable ventilation attenuated the amount of concentrations of proinflammatory mediators in lung homogenate: neutrophil cytokine-induced neutrophil chemoattractant 1 (VV = 40 ± 5 and VCV = 57 ± 8 pg/mg; P < .0001) and interleukin-1β (VV = 59 ± 25 and VCV = 261 ± 113 pg/mg; P < .0001). Variable ventilation was also associated with lower structural lung parenchyma damage. Significant reductions in air fraction at dorsal and caudal lung regions were observed in all ventilated animals (P < .001).Variable ventilation was more protective than conventional ventilation within the applied PEEP levels.