What does cyanide do to the body?

Detoxify cyanides faster

Detoxify cyanides faster

From Bettina Sauer


American researchers have developed a new type of antidote to hydrocyanic acid and its cyanide salts and successfully tested it on mice.


This is what the team around Dr. Herbert Nagasawa and Dr. Steven Patterson of the University of Minnesota in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (Doi: 10.1021 / jm7011497). The researchers announced that they would start clinical studies in the next three years.


Hydrocyanic acid and cyanides enter the body from foods such as flaxseed or via the respiratory tract. The lethal dose is around 1 mg of cyanide per kilogram of body weight. Because cyanide ions bind to trivalent iron of the cytochrome oxygenase a3. In doing so, they block the respiratory chain and the vital use of oxygen. The symptoms of this "internal suffocation" range from accelerated breathing to headaches, vomiting, convulsions, shortness of breath and loss of consciousness to death. The main countermeasure to date has been the intravenous combination of dimethylaminophenol and sodium thiosulfate.


In their new approach, the researchers are boosting the body's own detoxification machinery for cyanides. To this end, they have developed prodrugs from which 3-mercaptopyruvate is produced in the body. This is converted into pyruvate by an endogenous enzyme, 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfur transferase. If there are cyanides in the body at the same time, harmless thiocyanate is formed from them in the course of this reaction.


The antidote has three advantages over conventional therapies: It does not have to be injected, but can also be administered orally. In addition, the effect occurs within three minutes and lasts for up to an hour. Therefore, according to the researchers, the agent can possibly also be used for prophylaxis, for example by fire fighters before an extinguishing operation. Because when plastics are burned, cyanides are often released, which endanger the helpers.