Biological organisms maintain their functional integrity in varying environmental conditions through the activity of the innate immune system and controlled inflammation. During scuba diving, divers are exposed to greater than usual environmental changes, which challenges the entire body. The circulatory system is specifically stressed with an elevated partial pressure of oxygen and by decompression-induced gas bubbles on ascent to the surface. When the stress caused by the pressure changes exceeds a certain threshold, a variety of symptoms may occur after return to the surface — this is usually called decompression sickness (DCS).
DCS has been associated with the presence of a free gas phase in blood and tissues but we know little about the biological pathways and processes involved. While involvement of immune and inflammation cells and processes has been indicated previously, measurable changes are rarely present in asymptomatic divers, making it difficult to study the transition of physiological adaptive stress response into maladaptive or pathological reactions leading to loss of organ functions. We have reported in this blog about recent microparticle studies that may potentially shed more light on this gray area.