Magazine article Science News

Frozen in Time: Gas Puts Mice Metabolically on Ice

Magazine article Science News

Frozen in Time: Gas Puts Mice Metabolically on Ice

Article excerpt

Putting people into a state of suspended animation is a mainstay of science fiction, but a new study may have brought the idea closer to reality. By exposing mice to low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas in air, researchers slowed the animals' metabolic rate to a near standstill with no apparent ill effects.

Many animals undergo periods of extreme metabolic slowdown, or torpor, in which heart rate drops, breathing slows, and body temperature plunges. For some organisms, such as several species of hummingbirds, this drop in metabolic rate is a daily event. Other animals, such as bears, experience a seasonal slowdown for months while they hibernate.

Researchers have predicted numerous benefits of inducing torpor in people--for example, preventing further damage after a stroke or heart attack by slowing the body's often-harmful response, or putting a patient into a metabolically suspended state while he or she awaits a vital-organ transplant. However, scientists have had few successes in slowing metabolism and then safely reviving mammals that don't naturally undergo torpor.

After using hydrogen sulfide to successfully induce torporlike states in several non-mammalian species, such as yeast, worms, and flies, Mark Roth and his colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle attempted this feat in common lab mice (Musmusculus), which don't normally undergo torpor.

By administering room air laced with 80 parts-per-million of hydrogen sulfide, a noxious gas that smells like rotten eggs, the researchers induced mice to enter a hibernation-like state. …

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