Therapeutic effects of hypercapnia on chronic lung injury and vascular remodeling in neonatal rats

Permissive hypercapnia, achieved using low tidal volume ventilation, has been an effective protective strategy in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome. To date, no such protective effect has been demonstrated for the chronic neonatal lung injury, bronchopulmonary dysplasia. The objective of our study was to determine whether evolving chronic neonatal lung injury, using a rat model, is resistant to the beneficial effects of hypercapnia or simply requires a less conservative approach to hypercapnia than that applied clinically to date. Neonatal rats inhaled air or 60% O2 for 14 days with or without 5.5% CO2. Lung parenchymal neutrophil and macrophage numbers were significantly increased by hyperoxia alone, which was associated with interstitial thickening and reduced secondary crest formation. The phagocyte influx, interstitial thickening, and impaired alveolar formation were significantly attenuated by concurrent hypercapnia. Hyperoxic pups that received 5.5% CO2 had a significant increase in alveolar number relative to air-exposed pups. Increased tyrosine nitration, a footprint for peroxynitrite-mediated reactions, arteriolar medial wall thickening, and both reduced small peripheral pulmonary vessel number and VEGF and angiopoietin-1 (Ang-1) expression, which were observed with hyperoxia, was attenuated by concurrent hypercapnia. We conclude that evolving chronic neonatal lung injury in a rat model is responsive to the beneficial effects of hypercapnia. Inhaled 5.5% CO2 provided a significant degree of protection against parenchymal and vascular injury in an animal model of chronic neonatal lung injury likely due, at least in part, to its inhibition of a phagocyte influx.