Mechanisms involved in brain dysfunction in mechanically ventilated critically ill patients: implications and therapeutics
Critical illness may lead to significant long-term neurological morbidity and patients frequently develop neuropsychological disturbances including acute delirium or memory impairment after intensive care unit (ICU) discharge. Mechanical ventilation (MV) is a risk factor to the development of adverse neurocognitive outcomes. Patients undergoing MV for long periods present neurologic impairment with memory and cognitive alteration. Delirium is considered an acute form of brain dysfunction and its prevalence rises in mechanically ventilated patients. Delirium duration is an independent predictor of mortality, ventilation time, ICU length of stay and short- and long-term cognitive impairment in the ICU survivors. Although, neurocognitive sequelae tend to improve after hospital discharge, residual deficits persist even 6 years after ICU stay. ICU-related neurocognitive impairments occurred in many cognitive domains and are particularly pronounced with regard to memory, executive functions, attentional functions, and processing speed. These sequelae have an important impact on patients’ lives and ICU survivors often require institutionalization and hospitalization. Experimental studies have served to explore the possible mechanisms or pathways involved in this lung to brain interaction. This communication can be mediated via a complex web of signaling events involving neural, inflammatory, immunologic and neuroendocrine pathways. MV can affect respiratory networks and the application of protective ventilation strategies is mandatory in order to prevent adverse effects. Therefore, strategies focused to minimize lung stretch may improve outcomes, avoiding failure of distal organ, including the brain. Long-term neurocognitive impairments experienced by critically ill survivors may be mitigated by early interventions, combining cognitive and physical therapies. Inpatient rehabilitation interventions in ICU promise to improve outcomes in critically ill patients. The cross-talk between lung and brain, involving specific pathways during critical illness deserves further efforts to evaluate, prevent and improve cognitive alterations after ICU admission, and highlights the crucial importance of tailoring MV to prevent adverse outcomes.