Carbon Monoxide: To Boldly Go Where NO Has Gone Before

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Science's STKE  27 Apr 2004:
Vol. 2004, Issue 230, pp. re6
DOI: 10.1126/stke.2302004re6

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The discovery that nitric oxide (NO) gas acts as a physiological regulator of blood vessel tone represented a milestone in modern biological research. Carbon monoxide (CO), a similar gas, is produced by living cells as an endogenous by-product of heme degradation. Long thought to represent a metabolic waste, endogenous CO, like NO, has attracted much recent attention as a potential physiological regulator. The processes affected by CO include neurotransmission, vasorelaxation, and the regulation of cell growth or death. The mechanisms by which CO affects such biological processes include the production of cyclic nucleotide second messengers and the modulation of protein kinase–dependent signal transduction cascades. Low concentrations of exogenous CO have been shown to confer potent protection to cells and tissues in a number of disease models, offering the promise of future therapeutic applications for CO.