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The promise of new medical uses for sodium nitrite for heart attack and organ damage

Sodium nitrite, a naturally occurring chemical and common meat preservative, is only used medically to treat cyanide poisoning. But if the results of a new animal study hold up under further research in people, the chemical may one day be used to protect and preserve tissue and organ function after heart attack, high risk abdominal surgery, and organ transplantation.

The new study was conducted by scientists with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in collaboration with investigators supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and published in the May issue* of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The scientists found that low concentrations of sodium nitrite had a strong protective effect preventing cell death in the hearts and livers of mice undergoing experimental heart attack and liver injury. In the heart study, nitrite reduced the size of the area of dead tissue known as an infarct by 67 percent compared to control animals given nitrate, another nitrogen compound. This potent protective effect was observed at concentrations of nitrite in blood that were only slightly higher than the physiological normal levels in blood.

The study, led by David Lefer, Ph.D., of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and Mark Gladwin, M.D., Head of the Vascular Therapeutics Section of the NHLBI's Cardiovascular Branch, follows another study conducted by the NIH research team that found that infusions of sodium nitrite into the human circulation leads to the production of nitric oxide (NO), a strong blood vessel dilating molecule that increases blood flow. The conversion of nitrite to NO will occur only in tissue or blood that is very low in oxygen. It was this finding that triggered the team's interest in sodium nitrite as a treatment/preventive for the
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Contact: NHLBI Communications Office
nhlbi_news@nhlbi.nih.gov
301-496-4236
NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
14-Apr-2005


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