Detecting Cyanide Exposure – ScienceDaily


Exposure to cyanide can occur occupationally or at low levels due to inhalation of cigarette smoke – or being poisoned by someone who is looking for it. The effects are quick and can be deadly. But because cyanide is metabolized rapidly, it can be difficult to detect it in time for an antidote to be given. Now, in an animal study at ACS Chemical Research in Toxicology, the researchers report a new precise and accurate biomarker of cyanide exposure.

To treat cyanide poisoning, doctors first have to properly diagnose the condition. But symptoms such as dizziness, headaches and low blood pressure can indicate many different diseases. And the current tests for the condition have disadvantages. Direct measurement of cyanide levels in samples is not possible in many cases as it is rapidly eliminated from the body. Some indirect compound markers are almost as short-lived, while others are also present in foods such as broccoli, which may confuse analysis. Cyanide is known to react with thiols, which contain sulfur. In addition, evidence suggests that glutathione, an abundant sulfur-containing molecule in the body, could be the first line of defense against cyanide poisoning. So Brian Logue and his colleagues wondered if a glutathione metabolite could be a good indication that someone was around cyanide.

The researchers reacted to glutathione with cyanide and found that 2-aminothiazoline-4-oxoaminoethanoic acid (ATOEA) was produced. They then developed a method of rapid mass spectrometry to analyze ATOEA in plasma, and saw that they could accurately detect the compound within minutes of exposure in animals. As the level of cyanide increased, so did the level of ATOEA. And when an antidote was given, ATOEA levels declined. Researchers say that ATOEA also lasts longer in the body than cyanide, allowing more time to detect that marker after exposure.

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