'Sewer gas' induces suspended animation without decreasing blood pressure

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (October 9, 2006) -- Hydrogen sulfide gas can induce a state of suspended animation in mice while maintaining normal blood pressure, a finding that researchers hope will one day help treat critically-ill patients.

Hydrogen sulfide gas, sometimes called sewer gas, produces a noxious odor often described as a rotten egg smell. The gas occurs naturally in swamps, springs and volcanoes. While usually harmless, it can be toxic if breathed in sufficient quantity, explained Gian Paolo Volpato, one of the study's authors.

The study, entitled "Cardiovascular response to breathing hydrogen sulfide in a murine model: separating the effects of body temperature," will be presented Sunday, Oct. 8, at The American Physiological Society conference, "Comparative Physiology 2006: Integrating Diversity," in Virginia Beach, VA, Oct. 8-11. Gian Paolo Volpato, Robert J. Searles, Marielle Scherrer-Crosbie, Oleg V. Evgenov, Kenneth D. Block, Fumito Ichinose and Warren M. Zapol of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston carried out the study.

The research built on a 2005 study from the University of Washington in Seattle and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which found that when mice breathed the gas, they went into a hibernation-like state. Their metabolic rate dropped by 90% and their body temperature decreased to nearly the temperature of the surrounding air.

New research looks at cardiovascular effects

"We wanted to confirm the Seattle study and record the effects the gas has on blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and the activity level of the mice," Volpato explained. They administered 80 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide gas to their mice and found their:

  • heart rate fell from 500 beats per minute to 200 beats per minute
  • respiration rate decreased from 120 breaths to 25 breaths per minute
  • core body temperature fell from 38 C to 30 C
  • activi

Contact: Christine Guilfoy
American Physiological Society

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