Carbon monoxide: Present and future indications for a medical gas
Gaseous molecules continue to hold new promise in molecular medicine as experimental and clinical therapeutics. The low molecular weight gas carbon monoxide (CO), and similar gaseous molecules (e.g., H2S, nitric oxide) have been implicated as potential inhalation therapies in inflammatory diseases. At high concentration, CO represents a toxic inhalation hazard, and is a common component of air pollution. CO is also produced endogenously as a product of heme degradation catalyzed by heme oxygenase enzymes. CO binds avidly to hemoglobin, causing hypoxemia and decreased oxygen delivery to tissues at high concentrations. At physiological concentrations, CO may have endogenous roles as a signal transduction molecule in the regulation of neural and vascular function and cellular homeostasis. CO has been demonstrated to act as an effective anti-inflammatory agent in preclinical animal models of inflammation, acute lung injury, sepsis, ischemia/reperfusion injury, and organ transplantation. Additional experimental indications for this gas include pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, metabolic diseases, and preeclampsia. The development of chemical CO releasing compounds constitutes a novel pharmaceutical approach to CO delivery with demonstrated effectiveness in sepsis models. Current and pending clinical evaluation will determine the usefulness of this gas as a therapeutic in human disease.