Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Medical Gas Research and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Review

Neuroprotective, neurotherapeutic, and neurometabolic effects of carbon monoxide

Vicki L Mahan

Author Affiliations

St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Department of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery, 3601 A Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19134, USA

Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, 19102, USA

Medical Gas Research 2012, 2:32  doi:10.1186/2045-9912-2-32

Published: 27 December 2012


Studies in animal models show that the primary mechanism by which heme-oxygenases impart beneficial effects is due to the gaseous molecule carbon monoxide (CO). Produced in humans mainly by the catabolism of heme by heme-oxygenase, CO is a neurotransmitter important for multiple neurologic functions and affects several intracellular pathways as a regulatory molecule. Exogenous administration of inhaled CO or carbon monoxide releasing molecules (CORM’s) impart similar neurophysiological responses as the endogenous gas. Its’ involvement in important neuronal functions suggests that regulation of CO synthesis and biochemical properties may be clinically relevant to neuroprotection and the key may be a change in metabolic substrate from glucose to lactate. Currently, the drug is under development as a therapeutic agent and safety studies in humans evaluating the safety and tolerability of inhaled doses of CO show no clinically important abnormalities, effects, or changes over time in laboratory safety variables. As an important therapeutic option, inhaled CO has entered clinical trials and its clinical role as a neuroprotective and neurotherapeutic agent has been suggested. In this article, we review the neuroprotective effects of endogenous CO and discuss exogenous CO as a neuroprotective and neurotherapeutic agent.