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NO says yes to breathing fast

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11:04am, October 9, 2001

A few sprints up and down the soccer field or a hike up a mountain can make people

short of oxygen and breathe more rapidly than normal. Investigators have now found

that a form of nitric oxide (NO), not oxygen, provides the direct signal to the

brain that stimulates this panting.

Several years ago, biologists were surprised to learn that hemoglobin carries a

version of NO, as well as oxygen, around the body in red blood cells. The NO-derived compound regulates blood pressure by dilating blood vessels (SN: 3/23/96,

p. 180).

Now, Benjamin Gaston of the University of Virginia School of Medicine in

Charlottesville and his colleagues find that oxygen-poor blood produces NO-derived

compounds called S-nitrosothiols, or SNOs. These compounds act within the

respiratory center of a rat's brain to induce rapid breathing, the team reports in

the Sept. 13 Nature.

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