Writing in the April issue of the journal Anesthesiology, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital report that low doses of hydrogen sulfide can safely and reversibly lower metabolism and certain cardiovascular functions in mice. And the effects — including a big decrease in heart rate without a drop in blood pressure — don't require a reduction in body temperature.
"Hydrogen sulfide is the stinky gas that can kill workers who encounter it in sewers; but when adminstered to mice in small, controlled doses, within minutes it produces what appears to be totally reversible metabolic suppression," says Warren Zapol, chief of anesthesia and critical care at MGH and senior author of the study. "This is as close to instant suspended animation as you can get, and the preservation of cardiac contraction, blood pressure and organ perfusion is remarkable."
The researchers measured heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, respiration and physical activity in normal mice exposed to low doses of hydrogen sulfide for several hours. While some mice were studied at room temperature, others were kept in a warmer environment to prevent their body temperatures from plunging. All of the mice stopped breathing in oxygen and producing carbon dioxide in as little as 10 minutes after they began inhaling the stinky gas; as long as they were sucking down hydrogen sulfide, their levels remained low. But the mice returned to normal within 30 minutes of returning to a normal air supply.
"Producing a reversible hypometabolic state could allow organ function to be preserved when oxygen supply is limited, such as after a traumatic injury," says Gian Paolo Volpato, an MGH Anesthesiology research fellow and lead author of the study. "We don't know yet if these results will be transferable to humans, so our next step will be to study the use of hydrogen sulfide in larger mammals."
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