Respiratory physiology & neurobiology

Carbon monoxide exposure in the urban environment: an insidious foe for the heart?

PMID 22705012


Since Claude Bernard first demonstrated in the 19th century that carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occurs through hemoglobin binding, CO has proven to be more than simply a toxic gas, and to possess complex biological properties. In this review, we highlight the dual nature of CO in cardiovascular function, from endogenous and therapeutic properties to harmful aspects. Focussing on exposure to low environmental CO levels, the most common but least studied form of exposure, we summarize the pathophysiological effects of CO in vivo and in vitro, from cardiac disorders to phenotypic remodelling of cardiomyocytes, based on clinical observations and experimental studies. While acute exposure to low CO levels is considered beneficial and cardioprotective, prolonged exposure appears deleterious, mainly due to alterations in redox status, ion homeostasis, intracellular Ca(2+) handling, and sympathovagal balance. We emphasize that, despite its fascinating therapeutic potential at low levels, regular exposure to CO may have significant consequences on cardiovascular health and must be considered a cardiovascular risk factor.