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Tiny Dose of Carbon Monoxide Can Damage Fetal Brain

Last Updated: June 30, 2009.

Exposure to even minute levels of carbon monoxide can cause oxidative stress in fetal brain tissue, according to a May 27 study published in BMC Neuroscience.

TUESDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to even minute levels of carbon monoxide can cause oxidative stress in fetal brain tissue, according to a May 27 study published in BMC Neuroscience.

Ivan A. Lopez, Ph.D., of the University of California in Los Angeles, and colleagues exposed pregnant rats to carbon monoxide from five to 20 days' gestation. Rat pups were then divided into three groups: those exposed to carbon monoxide in utero, those exposed both before and after birth, and those exposed only after birth.

The researchers used markers of oxidative stress to assess the impact of carbon monoxide and found that exposure to carbon monoxide during the fetal and postnatal periods caused an increase in oxidative stress which continued at 20 days postnatal in rat pups that were only exposed prenatally. The findings are relevant to humans because infants and children may be exposed to carbon monoxide in well-insulated homes from various sources including tobacco smoke, gas heaters, stoves and ovens.

"Oxidative stress damaged the baby rats' brain cells, leading to a drop in proteins essential for proper function," Lopez said in a statement. "Oxidative stress is a risk factor linked to many disorders, including autism, cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis and cardiovascular disease. We know that it exacerbates disease."

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