Severe pulmonary infection or vigorous cyclic deformation of the alveolar epithelial type I (AT I) cells by mechanical ventilation leads to massive extracellular ATP release. High levels of extracellular ATP saturate the ATP hydrolysis enzymes CD39 and CD73 resulting in persistent high ATP levels despite the conversion to adenosine. Above a certain level, extracellular ATP molecules act as danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) and activate the pro-inflammatory response of the innate immunity through purinergic receptors on the surface of the immune cells. This results in lung tissue inflammation, capillary leakage, interstitial and alveolar oedema and lung injury reducing the production of surfactant by the damaged AT II cells and deactivating the surfactant function by the concomitant extravasated serum proteins through capillary leakage followed by a substantial increase in alveolar surface tension and alveolar collapse. The resulting inhomogeneous ventilation of the lungs is an important mechanism in the development of ventilation-induced lung injury. The high levels of extracellular ATP and the upregulation of ecto-enzymes and soluble enzymes that hydrolyse ATP to adenosine (CD39 and CD73) increase the extracellular adenosine levels that inhibit the innate and adaptive immune responses rendering the host susceptible to infection by invading microorganisms. Moreover, high levels of extracellular adenosine increase the expression, the production and the activation of pro-fibrotic proteins (such as TGF-β, α-SMA, etc.) followed by the establishment of lung fibrosis.

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Purinergic Signalling

Hasan, D., Blankman, P., & Nieman, G. F. (2017). Purinergic signalling links mechanical breath profile and alveolar mechanics with the pro-inflammatory innate immune response causing ventilation-induced lung injury. Purinergic Signalling, 1–24. doi:10.1007/s11302-017-9564-5