London, October 24 : American scientists have revealed that a gas released by bad eggs, known as hydrogen sulphide, acts as a muscle relaxant to regulate blood pressure in certain animal cells.
While hydrogen sulphide can be fatal for humans, several studies have shown that it can put mice into a state of suspended animation, and help limit the damage caused by a heart attack.
Sol Snyder and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, say that they have identified the enzyme that produces this gas in tissues that help to control blood flow in mice.
With a view to determining the function of the enzyme called CSE, the researchers genetically engineered mice to lack the gene to make CSE.
"You knock out CSE and you stop making hydrogen sulphide in every bit of the body except the brain," Nature magazine quoted Snyder as saying.
The researcher said that the first thing the team observed in mice that were not making hydrogen sulphide was high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
They ruled out other possible reasons for high blood pressure in the mice, such as kidney damage or missing enzymes that produce other chemicals to regulate blood pressure.
The team also tested smooth-muscle tissue in the blood vessels of mice that did not have the gene for CSE, and found that muscle relaxation in those mice was "markedly impaired" compared with tissue from normal mice.
Matt Whiteman at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter, UK, whose research measures hydrogen-sulphide levels in patients with diabetes-related hypertension, hailed this research as the first one to show that removing CSE could make blood pressure go up.
"This is fantastic news for people like me working in the field," he said.
Anticipating the therapeutic applications of the team's findings, Snyder's colleague Rui Wang, from Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, said: "It would be a good idea to screen people with hypertension for abnormalities in the CSE enzyme."
Wang also said that other diseases like atherosclerosis ('hardened' arteries), heart failure, or diabetes-related heart problems might also be treated by tackling the body's hydrogen-sulphide system.
A research article on the study has been published in the journal Science.