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Perils of prevention

发布时间:2019-03-07 10:04:10来源:未知点击:

By Nell Boyce in Washington DC A DRUG taken by troops to protect them from the deadly nerve gas soman cannot be ruled out as a cause of Gulf War syndrome, according to a report commissioned by the US Department of Defense. Around a hundred thousand veterans of the Gulf War developed symptoms including memory loss, insomnia, joint pain, fevers and fatigue. The cause of this syndrome remains a mystery, but scientists have pointed the finger at everything from oil fires to depleted uranium shells (New Scientist, 5 June, p 20). Officials last week admitted that they cannot discount the possibility that troops suffered lasting harm as a result of taking a drug called pyridostigmine bromide (PB). More than two hundred thousand Gulf War soldiers were given the drug as a “pre-treatment” to help them survive an attack with soman, a nerve gas so potent that victims collapse before they can reach for an antidote. Soman works by permanently binding to an enzyme that breaks down excess levels of a nerve-signalling chemical called acetylcholine. PB binds to that same enzyme, but only temporarily. The idea was that PB would bind to a proportion of the enzyme molecules, protecting them from sonan and restoring normal nerve-signalling by releasing the enzyme later on. But the lead author of the report, Beatrice Golomb of the University of California in San Diego, believes that PB’s temporary binding could have long-term effects. Nerve cells may change their receptors to cope with the excessive levels of acetylcholine that build up when the enzyme is blocked, she suggests. Golomb notes that acetylcholine is involved in the regulation of sleep, mood, pain, thought and movement. “It would be plausible that symptoms of the type described by Gulf War veterans might ensue,” she says. But her review of over a thousand documents did not unearth enough information to conclude that PB caused harm. An additional 26 studies looking at the health consequences of PB are ongoing in the US, says Sue Bailey, assistant secretary for health affairs at the Department of Defense. But Bailey would not rule out future use of the drug, given the lack of any alternative protection against soman. “However, our leadership would be very judicious in deciding to use PB in the future,