Effects of carbon monoxide on the brain may be mediated by nitric oxide

S. Meilin, G. G. Rogatsky, S. R. Thom, N. Zarchin, E. Guggenheimer-Furman, A. Mayevsky

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Carbon monoxide (CO) is known to be a toxic molecule due to the high affinity of hemoglobin for it. However, it has recently been shown that low doses of CO may play a physiological role. The aim of the present study was to examine processes occurring in the brain during exposure to 1,000 parts per million CO that result in an increase in cerebral blood flow (CBF) but are not accompanied by changes in oxidative metabolism. This study was carried out in awake rats with the multiprobe assembly developed in this laboratory for the simultaneous continuous measurement of CBF, intramitochondrial NADH redox levels, direct current potential, and extracellular concentrations of K+, Ca2+, and H+ as well as the electrocorticogram. Exposure to 1,000 parts per million CO in air resulted in an increased CBF without any concomitant changes in any of the other metabolic or ionic parameters measured. This indicates that tissue hypoxia was not the trigger for this vasodilation. Injection of N(ω)-nitro-L- arginine (L-NNA), a nitric oxide synthase inhibitor, before exposure to CO effectively blocked the increase in CBF that was observed when the animal was exposed to CO without prior injection of L-NNA. Furthermore, electrocorticographic depression was observed after the combined treatment of L-NNA and CO. In conclusion, exposure to relatively low doses of CO apparently does not have a deleterious effect on oxidative metabolism because the increase in CBF after this exposure is sufficient to prevent changes in oxidative metabolism, as indicated by the fact that NADH levels remained constant. This protective autoregulatory effect may be mediated by nitric oxide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1078-1083
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1996


  • N(ω)-nitro-L-arginine
  • cerebral blood flow
  • electrocortical activity
  • extracellular ions
  • mitochondrial redox state


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