10 June 2021
Decompression sickness (DCS) develops due to inert gas bubble formation in bodily tissues and in the circulation, leading to a wide range of potentially serious clinical manifestations. Its pathophysiology remains incompletely understood. In this study, we aim to explore changes in the human leukocyte transcriptome in divers with DCS compared to closely matched unaffected controls after uneventful diving. Cases ( n = 7) were divers developing the typical cutis marmorata rash after diving with a confirmed clinical diagnosis of DCS. Controls ( n = 6) were healthy divers who surfaced from a ≥25 msw dive without decompression violation or evidence of DCS. Blood was sampled at two separate time points—within 8 h of dive completion and 40–44 h later. Transcriptome analysis by RNA-Sequencing followed by bioinformatic analysis was carried out to identify differentially expressed genes and relate their function to biological pathways. In DCS cases, we identified enrichment of transcripts involved in acute inflammation, activation of innate immunity and free radical scavenging pathways, with specific upregulation of transcripts related to neutrophil function and degranulation. DCS-induced transcriptomic events were reversed at the second time point following exposure to hyperbaric oxygen. The observed changes are consistent with findings from animal models of DCS and highlight a continuum between the responses elicited by uneventful diving and diving complicated by DCS. This study sheds light on the inflammatory pathophysiology of DCS and the associated immune response. Such data may potentially be valuable in the search for novel treatments targeting this disease.