In DepthBiomedicine

Carbon monoxide, the silent killer, may have met its match

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Science  09 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6317, pp. 1215
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6317.1215

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Given off by engines, heaters, and fireplaces, the tasteless, odorless gas known as carbon monoxide (CO) sends more than 50,000 Americans to the emergency room—and kills approximately 500—every year. CO poisons in at least two ways. First, it binds tightly to the hemoglobin in blood and prevents it from delivering oxygen throughout the body. Second, it inhibits the process of respiration in mitochondria, cells' powerhouses. About the best physicians can now offer in cases of poisoning is a treatment developed more than 50 years ago: high-pressure oxygen. But a research team has repurposed the protein neuroglobin into a highly effective CO scavenger and a study in mice gives hope it may become the first true antidote for CO poisoning.

  • * Wudan Yan is a freelance journalist based in Seattle, Washington.