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Inhaled nitric oxide in patients admitted to intensive care unit with COVID-19 pneumonia

A Correction to this article was published on 26 November 2020

This article has been updated

Dear Editor,

Patients with ARDS due to COVID-19 are characterised by poor oxygenation with a various extent of pulmonary alterations [1]. Ventilation strategies for COVID-19 patients have been suggested basing on the pathophysiological evidence to date [1]; however, there are no data regarding the use of inhaled nitric oxide (iNO). We report herein our experience of iNO administration in COVID-19 mechanically ventilated patients with refractory hypoxaemia and/or right ventricular (RV) dysfunction. Refractory hypoxaemia was defined as PaO2/FiO2 < 100 despite high PEEP (≥ 10 cmH2O) and prone position. RV dysfunction was defined as acute cor pulmonale at echocardiography with hemodynamic impairment requiring infusion of inotropic drugs [2].

The NO/nitrogen mixture was introduced into the inspiratory limb of the ventilator tubing. Respiratory and haemodynamic parameters were collected immediately before iNO administration (t0) and after 15–30 min (t1). Responders were defined by an increase of PaO2/FiO2 > 20% compared to t0 [3].

Results in the text are shown as median [IQR] or number (%). Wilcoxon test for paired samples and Mann-Whitney test, as appropriate (MedCalc version 19.2 MedCalc Software), were performed considering p < 0.05 as significant.

iNO was used in sixteen out of 72 (22.2%) consecutive mechanically ventilated patients (66.0 [59.6–69.7] years old; 93% male). All patients required iNO for refractory hypoxaemia of whom 4 (25%) had also superimposed RV dysfunction, in 1 case associated with pulmonary embolism. The iNO dosage was 25 [20–30] parts per million (ppm).

Respiratory parameters at t0 and t1 are shown in Table 1. Overall, iNO did not improve oxygenation in our population. Only 4 (25%) patients were responders, of whom 3 have superimposed RV dysfunction, showing a median increase of PaO2/FiO2 of 26.9% [24.1–45.5]. A trend towards a larger improvement of oxygenation was observed in patients with RV dysfunction as compared with those without (PaO2/FiO2 increase 24.1% [9.2–43.5] vs. 3.3% [− 10.8–11.5], p = 0.069). Additionally, in responders, PaO2/FiO2 was 125.9 [82.2–259.2] at t1 and did not change (p = 0.875) 24 h later (146.4 [102.2–225.1]).

Table 1 Patients respiratory and hemodynamic parameters at the two time points

iNO is a free radical gas that diffuses across the alveolar-capillary membrane into the subjacent smooth muscle of pulmonary vessels enhancing endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation and improving oxygenation by increasing blood flow to ventilated lung units [3]. In previous studies, iNO was effective in improving PaO2/FiO2 and oxygenation index, although it failed in reversing acute lung injury, reducing mechanical ventilation days and mortality [4].

In our population, the improvement of oxygenation in responders was probably magnified by an iNO-induced decrease of RV afterload, enhancing cardiac output and finally leading to an increase of mixed venous oxygen saturation.

Although the reason why patients with refractory hypoxaemia without RV dysfunction were not responder is yet to be determined, some speculation can be done. Severe endothelial injury with cytoplasmic vacuolization and cell detachment in pulmonary middle-small arteries can make the pulmonary vessels less reactive to iNO stimulation [1, 5, 6]. This could also explain the loss of hypoxic vasoconstriction and lung perfusion regulation. However, whether vascular derangements in COVID-19 are due to endothelial cell involvement by the virus, part of the ARDS pathophysiology or the intertwine of both is still undetermined. Moreover, prone position and iNO were used in refractory hypoxaemia as an escalating treatment strategy. Therefore, a positive response to the prone position may have precluded the enrolment in our study of patients that could positively respond to iNO.


Overall, iNO did not improve oxygenation in COVID-19 patients with refractory hypoxaemia, when administered as a rescue treatment after prone position. A subgroup of patients with RV dysfunction was better iNO responders probably due to the haemodynamic improvement associated with RV unloading.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Change history

  • 26 November 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via the original article.


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We thank all the nurses and physicians involved in the management of such epidemics (Dr. Camporotondo Rita, Prof. Iotti Giorgio, Dr. Sciutti Fabio, Dr. Rodi Giuseppe, Dr. Orlando Anita, Dr. Maggio Giuseppe, Dr. Belliato Mirko, Dr. Radolovich Danila, Dr. Sala Gallini Giuseppe, Dr. Caneva Luca, Dr. Pagani Michele, Dr.Ferrari Fiorenza, Dr. Aliberti Anna, Dr. Visconti Federico, Dr. Repossi Filippo, Dr. Civardi Luca, Dr. Puce Roberta, Dr. Aliberti Anna, Dr.Bottazzi, Andrea, Dr. Amatu Alessandro, Dr. Lococo Claudia, Dr. Arisi Eric) and the Pavia COVID-19 Task Force (Dr. Marena Carlo, Dr. Calvi Monica, Dr. Grugnetti Giuseppina, Dr. Maurelli Marco, Dr. Muzzi Alba, Prof. Raffaele Bruno, Dr. Lago Paolo, Prof. Marseglia Gianluigi, Prof. Perlini Stefano, Dr. Palo Alessandra, Prof Baldanti Fausto, Prof. Corsico Angelo Guido, Prof. Di Sabatino Antonio, Prof. Iotti Giorgio, Prof. Benazzo Marco, Prof.Carlo Nicora, Prof.Antonio Triarico and Dr. Vincenzo Petronella).


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All authors contributed equally to the data collection and redaction, writing and final revision before submission of the paper. The author(s) read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Guido Tavazzi.

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Informed consent was collected following the ad hoc procedures defined by the local Ethics Committee of Fondazione Policlinico San Matteo IRCCS for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Competing interests

FM received fees for lectures from GE Healthcare, Hamilton Medical, SEDA SpA, outside the present work. SM received fees for lectures from GE Healthcare, outside the present work. GT received fees for lectures by GE Healthcare, outside the present work. MP, VD and GR have nothing to disclose.

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The original version of this article was revised: Following publication of the original article, the authors identified an error in an author name. The given name and family name were erroneously transposed for Marco Pozzi.

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Tavazzi, G., Pozzi, M., Mongodi, S. et al. Inhaled nitric oxide in patients admitted to intensive care unit with COVID-19 pneumonia. Crit Care 24, 508 (2020).

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