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The fraction of nitrous oxide in oxygen for facilitating lung collapse during one-lung ventilation with double lumen tube



The ideal fraction of nitrous oxide (N2O) in oxygen (O2) for rapid lung collapse remains unclear. Accordingly, this prospective trial aimed to determine the 50% effective concentration (EC50) and 95% effective concentration (EC95) of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse.


This study included 38 consecutive patients undergoing video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). The lung collapse score (LCS) of each patient during one-lung ventilation was evaluated by the same surgeon. The first patient received 30% N2O in O2, and the subsequent N2O fraction in O2 was determined by the LCS of the previous patient using the Dixon up-and-down method. The testing interval was set at 10%, and the lowest concentration was 10% (10, 20, 30, 40%, or 50%). The EC50 and EC95 of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse were analyzed using a probit test.


According to the up-and-down method, the N2O fraction in O2 at which all patients exhibited successful lung collapse was 50%. The EC50 and EC95 of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse were 27.7% (95% confidence interval 19.9–35.7%) and 48.7% (95% confidence interval 39.0–96.3%), respectively.


In patients undergoing VATS, the EC50 and EC95 of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse were 27.7 and 48.7%, respectively.

Trial registration Identifier ChiCTR19 00021474, registered on 22 February 2019.

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Rapid lung collapse facilitates intrathoracic surgical procedures, which are particularly important for minimally invasive video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). It is well-known that when one-lung ventilation (OLV) begins, the nonventilated lung will undergo phase I lung collapse due to elastic recoil, which usually occurs within 60 s [1]. When phase I lung collapse ceases, presumably due to small airway closure, the slower phase II lung collapse begins, which mainly depends on continuous gaseous diffusion or absorption atelectasis. The previously recommended measures for hastening lung collapse include carbon dioxide insufflation of the pleural space [1] and intermittent airway suction [2]. However, to our knowledge, no studies have indicated that these measures actually achieve the intended result.

The rate of gas absorption in the nonventilated lung depends on the composition of the inspired gas [3, 4]. The oxygen (O2) fraction and solubility of any inert gas in the inspired mixture are important factors in the rate of gas absorption. If the inspired gas mixture contains a less soluble gas, such as nitrogen, the absorption rate is relatively slow and increases as O2 increases [4]. In contrast, when the inspired mixture contains a relatively soluble inert gas and O2, gas absorption is faster. In physiological terms, nitrous oxide (N2O) is highly soluble. In animal models [5, 6], it has been demonstrated that mechanical lung ventilation using an O2/N2O mixture will increase the rate of gaseous uptake from the non-ventilated lung and hasten its absorptive collapse. In addition, clinical studies have also indicated that, compared with an O2/air mixture or 100% O2, using an O2/N2O mixture before OLV prompts phase II lung collapse when a double-lumen endotracheal tube (DLT) or bronchial blocker (b-blocker) is used for lung isolation. Furthermore, this useful measure does not affect phase I lung collapse and cause hypoxia [7,8,9].

The commonly used N2O fraction in O2 for rapid lung collapse is 50% or 60% [6,7,8]; however, the proper fraction of N2O in O2 when this measure is used in thoracic procedures remains unclear. Accordingly, this prospective trial was designed to determine the 50% effective concentration (EC50) and 95% effective concentration (EC95) of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse.


The present study was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Zhongshan Hospital, Fudan University (Shanghai, China; IRB:B2018-314R), and written informed consent was obtained from all subjects who participated in the trial. The trial was registered before patient enrollment at (ChiCTR19 00021474, Principal investigator, Chao Liang, Date of registration, February 22, 2019). Patients scheduled to undergo elective VATS for lung cancer at the Zhongshan Hospital were enrolled in the present study. All patients underwent preoperative pulmonary function tests. Patients with evidence of bullae on chest radiography, abnormal expiratory recoil (forced expiratory volume in 1 s < 70% of predicted value), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or severe asthma, major medical comorbidities, or anticipated pleural adhesion were excluded.

To avoid the potential effects of inhaled volatile anesthetic on oxygenation during OLV, all patients received total intravenous anesthesia. Propofol was administered using a target-controlled infusion (TCI) device (Cardinal Health, Basingstoke, United Kingdom) based on a three-compartment population pharmacokinetic model defined by Schnider et al. [10]. Anesthesia was induced using propofol TCI (target plasma concentration set at 4.0 μg ml− 1), remifentanil (0.2 μg kg− 1 min− 1), fentanyl 1 μg kg− 1, and rocuronium bromide 0.6 mg kg− 1. Anesthesia was maintained using propofol TCI (target plasma concentration set at 3.0 μg ml− 1) infusion and intermittent boluses rocuronium. Tidal volumes were 8 mL kg− 1 ideal body weight during both two-lung ventilation (2LV) and OLV without positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP). The 100% O2 was introduced by a mask during induction for 3 min. Patients were intubated using an appropriate-size, left-sided, DLT; the position of the DLT was confirmed using fiberoptic bronchoscopy (FOB). The selected N2O/O2 admixture was then introduced and continued during positive pressure ventilation until the start of OLV. The patients were placed in the lateral position, and the position of the DLT was reconfirmed and adjusted using FOB as needed. At the time of skin incision, the DLT lumens were opened to the atmosphere for 60 s, then the nonventilated lumen of the DLT was clamped for gas uptake, and OLV of the dependent lung was started with a fraction of inspired oxygen of 1.0.


Given that all procedures were conducted using VATS, lung collapse was scored via video view. Surgeons were blinded to the gas composition, assessing LCS at 5 min after pleural opening using a verbal rating scale [7] scored from 0 (no lung deflation) to 10 (maximal lung collapse). FOB was used to diagnose and correct the problem when lung isolation was unsatisfactory. Baseline arterial blood gas of each patient was obtained preoperatively while patients breathed room air. After anesthesia induction, the right or left radial artery was cannulated, and blood gas samples were analyzed every 10 min for the first 30 min of OLV. The lowest O2 saturation (SpO2) during OLV and the time required to open the lung pleura (time from start of OLV until pleural opening), end-tidal carbon dioxide, heart rate, and arterial blood pressure were also recorded. End-tidal O2 or N2O was recorded every minute from the start of OLV using an anesthetic analyzer that was a component of the anesthesia machine (IntelliVue G5, Phillips, Andover, MA, USA).

To calculate the EC50 and EC95 of N2O in O2, the N2O fraction in O2 in the first case was 30%, and the subsequent N2O fraction was determined by the LCS of the previous patient using the Dixon up-and-down method. The testing interval was set at 10%, and the lowest concentration of N2O was 10%. “Successful lung collapse” was defined as an LCS ≥ 8, and the N2O fraction in the subsequent patient was decreased by 10%. An LCS < 8 was regarded as “fail”, and the N2O fraction in the subsequent patient was increased by 10%.

Statistical analysis

Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS version 19.0 (IBM Corporation, Armonk, NY, USA) and Excel 2007 (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA, USA). Patient characteristics were expressed as mean and standard deviation (SD) or number. Continuous variables were analyzed using the t-test and categorical variables were analyzed using the chi-squared test. The mean of the mid-point of all fail/success pairs was used to calculate N2O EC50 using up-and-down method described by Dixon and Massey, and a minimum of 8 crossover pairs were required for the analysis [11]. A dose-response curve was determined using probit analysis and interpolation was performed to obtain EC50 and EC95 with 95% corresponding confidence interval (CI).


The eligibility of 40 patients was assessed and 38 were recruited for the study (Fig. 1). All patients had satisfactory lung isolation and did not require correction of DLT malpositioning or discontinuation of OLV. An additional two patients were excluded from the study due to pneumothoracic adhesions and, consequently, difficult assessment of LCS. Ultimately, therefore, 36 patients were analyzed. The demographic characteristics of the patients are summarized in Table 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Flow diagram of participants

Table 1 Demographic data of study population

The N2O fraction success data of LCS for patients obtained using the up-and-down method are presented in Fig. 2. This was further analyzed by probit regression analysis. The EC50 of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse was 27.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] 19.9–35.7%). The EC95 of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse was 48.7% (95% CI 39.0–96.3%). The N2O fraction in O2 and percentages of patients who achieved successful lung collapse (i.e., LCS ≥ 8) are summarized in Table 2. The fraction-success curve of N2O plotted from probit analysis of individual N2O fractions and the respective LCS is presented in Fig. 3. Clinically significant desaturation (SpO2 < 90%) requiring alveolar recruitment maneuvers or other interventions did not occur in any patient. During the investigation period, no other intraoperative hemodynamic events (hypotension, tachycardia, and bradycardia) were recorded or required intervention.

Fig. 2
figure 2

The sequential lung collapse score of 36 patients to nitrous oxide with the up-and-down method. × = lung collapse score < 8;  = lung collapse score ≥ 8

Table 2 Percentages of patients who had successful lung collapse score (lung collapse score equal to or more than 8).
Fig. 3
figure 3

Dose-response curve for nitrous oxide plotted using probit analysis. The 50% effective concentration was 27.7% (95% confidence interval, 19.9–35.7%). The 95% effective concentration was 48.7% (95% confidence interval, 39.0–96.3%)


The use of an N2O/O2 mixture is a useful method for rapid lung collapse. The present study determined that the EC50 of N2O in O2 for rapid lung collapse was 27.7%.

The underlying mechanism of an N2O/O2 inspired gas mixture leads to rapid lung collapse may attributed to a “second gas” effect, which is the rapid absorption of N2O facilitating O2 uptake, or to a concentration effect, or to gas solubility [12]. During OLV, the nonventilated lung collapses initially due to elastic recoil, and the remaining gas is then removed by absorption into the pulmonary capillary blood [6]. Thus, in the present study, for complete lung collapse by elastic recoil, both nonventilated and ventilated lumens of the DLT were opened to the atmosphere for 60 s, then the nonventilated lumen was clamped for gas uptake. The average time of plural opening in the present study was approximately 60 s (mean, 59.6 ± 12.2 s), which is consistent with previous studies reporting on plural opening in VATS [7]. Then, a verbal rating scale [7, 8], scored from 0 (no lung deflation) to 10 (maximal lung collapse), was used by the surgeon to score the patient’s lung collapse condition. Other studies [13, 14] have also used a four-point ordinal scale (1, extremely poor to no collapse of the lung; 2, poor partial collapse with interference with surgical exposure; 3, good total collapse, but the lung still contained residual air; and 4, excellent to complete collapse with perfect surgical exposure). To evaluate the condition of the lung, however, defining a “success” and “fail” condition is a necessary step for determining EC50 using the up-and-down method. Compared with a four-point ordinal scale, a verbal rating scale from 0 to 10 appears to be more accurate for scoring lung collapse condition. Moreover, in our pilot study, virtually all surgeons regarded LCS ≥ 8 as a proper condition for lung manipulations; thus, we defined LCS ≥ 8 as “success” and < 8 as “fail”.

In a study investigating the use of a b-blocker as a lung isolation tool, the LCS of 50% N2O in O2 was significantly higher compared with that of 100% O2 at 5 min after opening the pleura; however, < 50% patients’ LCS was ≥8 [7]. In another study, in which DLT was used as the lung isolation tool, when 50% N2O was applied, the average LCS was 9 at 10 min after opening the pleura, although the investigators did not report LCS at 5 min after opening the pleura [8]. When 30% N2O in O2 was used in our pilot study, approximately 50% of patients had an LCS ≥ 8. Differences in LCS 5 min after opening the pleura between our study and the study investigating b-blockers as the lung isolation tool may largely be attributed to the different isolation tools and the surgeon’s personal LCS scoring criteria.

In previous studies [7, 8], the target gas mixtures of N2O and O2 were used at the time of preoxygenation during anesthesia induction, and the gas concentrations before OLV were equal to the target concentrations. In the present study, 100% O2 was used for preoxygenation, and the selected N2O and O2 gas mixtures were then used after intubation. However, before OLV, all selected N2O and O2 gas mixtures were equal to the target mixtures. Therefore, it appears that using O2 for induction, and switching to N2O and O2 after intubation is more applicable because a “more O2 induction period” is safer than one that involves less. Regarding operation type, all patients in the present study underwent VATS for lung surgery, which is the primary surgery type for lung tumors, and the enrolled cases in previous studies mainly underwent open thoracotomies. Compared with open thoracotomies, the lung collapse condition is more important for VATS; thus, data from the present study are more applicable to modern clinical practice(s).

The present study had several limitations. First, for the purposes of this study, we determined the success or failure of lung collapse based on the surgeons’ scoring scale, which was not entirely objective. However, similar to the methods used in previous studies, using more objective criteria, such as the distance of the collapsed lung to the chest wall, appears to be less clinically relevant due to varying sizes of patient chests. Therefore, the most clinically relevant assessment of the lung collapse condition is the surgeon’s opinion. Second, the tidal volumes were 8 mL kg− 1 ideal body weight during both 2LV and OLV without PEEP. However, this has been associated with increased postoperative complications and mortality [15]. Furthermore, an adequate amount of PEEP was shown to be effective in reducing stress to the dependent lung and V/Q mismatch [16]. Applying PEEP to the dependent lung should also influence the primary outcome. In fact, LCS was assessed by a surgeon who could have been confounded by a more inflated dependent lung. Third, all patients in the present study demonstrated relatively normal results on pulmonary function testing (including 3 smokers) and body mass indices. As such, the results of our study may not be applicable to patients with poor pulmonary function test results, or to obese patients and/or smokers. Lastly, the duration of administration of the O2/N2O admixture was from the confirmation of DLT with FOB to the time of skin incision, and unfortunately, we did not record the time of this period. These concerns may be addressed in future studies.


When a DLT was used for lung isolation in patients undergoing VATS, the EC50 and EC95 of N2O in O2 during 2LV for accelerating lung collapse during OLV were 27.7 and 48.7%, respectively.

Availability of data and materials

Reasonable requests for access to the datasets used and/or analysed during this study can be made to the corresponding author.



Nitrous oxide

O2 :


EC50 :

50% effective concentration

EC95 :

95% effective concentration


Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery


Lung collapse score


One-lung ventilation


Double-lumen tube


Bronchial blocker

FEV1 :

Forced expiratory volume at 1 s


Target-controlled infusion


Fiberoptic bronchoscopy


Confidence intervals


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This work was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 81400930).

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Authors and Affiliations



YC L and CL conceived and designed the study, collecting and interpretation of data, and drafting the manuscript. YS carried out the statistical analysis, and was involved in interpretation of data and drafting the manuscript. CJ and ZG X was involved in designing the study, and was involved in interpretation of data and drafting the manuscript. All of the authors critically revised and approved the final form of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jing Cang or Changhong Miao.

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This study was approved (IRB: B2018-314R) by the Ethics Committee of Zhongshan Hospital, Fudan University on Dec 4, 2018. All of the participants gave their written, informed consent to participate in the study.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Liang, C., Lv, Y., Shi, Y. et al. The fraction of nitrous oxide in oxygen for facilitating lung collapse during one-lung ventilation with double lumen tube. BMC Anesthesiol 20, 180 (2020).

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  • Nitrous oxide
  • Lung collapse
  • One-lung ventilation
  • Double lumen