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Weizmann Institute scientists used accelerated evolution to develop enzymes that provide protection against nerve gas
Date:2/16/2011

Protection against nerve gas attack is a significant component of the defense system of many countries around the world. Nerve gases are used by armies and terrorist organizations, and constitute a threat to both the military and civilian populations, but existing drug solutions against them have limited efficiency.

A multidisciplinary team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science succeeded in developing an enzyme that breaks down such organophosphorus nerve agents efficiently before damage to nerves and muscles is caused. Their results have recently been published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology. Recent experiments performed in a U.S. military laboratory (USAMRICD) have shown that injecting a relatively small amount of this enzyme into animals provides protection against certain types of nerve agents, for which current treatments show limited efficacy.

Nerve agents disrupt the chemical messages sent between nerve and muscle cells, causing loss of muscle control, and ultimately leading to death by suffocation. Nerve agents interfere with the activity of acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of the chemical messenger acetylcholine. As a result, acetylcholine continues to exert its effect, resulting in constant muscle contraction throughout the body.

Several drugs exist that are used to treat cases of nerve agent poisoning. Although these drugs are somewhat effective when exposed to small doses of the nerve agent, they do not provide protection against high-dose exposure; they are not effective against all types of nerve agents; or they cause serious side effects. Neither are they able to prevent nor repair cerebral and motor nerve damage caused by the nerve agent.

An ideal solution to the problem is to use enzymes proteins that speed up chemical reactions to capture and break down the nerve agent before it gets the chance to bind to the acetylcholinesterase, thereby preventi
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Contact: Yivsam Azgad
news@weizmann.ac.il
972-893-43856
Weizmann Institute of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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