Carbon Monoxide Gas Is Used by Brain Cells As a Neurotransmitter
"THE simple gas carbon monoxide is used by nerve cells to signal each other, researchers have found in a discovery that could open the way to a new understanding of how the brain operates.
The discovery follows a finding that another simple gas, nitric oxide, can also signal nerve cells. Together the two gases break all the old rules on how neurotransmitters work"
Neurobiologists have been finding neurotransmitters since the 1920's and thought they had the rules for nerve signaling in hand. Each substance was thought to be stable and specific. One nerve cell would release the transmitter and it would fit into the next cell like a key in a lock.
But gases are volatile and nonspecific, and they diffuse into any nearby cells. Transmitters were also thought to be stored in small pouches in cells that made them and released when necessary. But gases are not stored and are made only when needed. Clinical Implications
"It's a whole brand new signaling mechanism," said Dr. Charles Stevens, a neurobiologist who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institutes investigator at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif.
"So far, he added, he is finding evidence that carbon monoxide might be used to cement memories in the hippocampus of the brain and that established memories might be erased when carbon monoxide is absent."
And, he says, the new findings about carbon monoxide and nitric oxide have taught neurobiologists an important lesson: "It makes you think that when people are evaluating whether a given chemical is a candidate neurotransmitter, they ought to be very careful about applying the rules of ancient days."
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