Definitive evidence to explain how the drug nitroglycerin relieves chest pain has resulted from a new study by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators at Duke University Medical Center. Nitroglycerin relaxes blood vessels to boost blood flow, yet the mechanism by which the drug works has remained a matter of scientific controversy.
The findings bolster earlier indications that the drug may be ineffective for certain patients, and may place others at risk, the researchers said. The results also suggest that certain other drugs should be avoided by heart patients taking the blood vessel dilator, as those drugs activity might counteract nitroglycerins effects. Such drugs include sulfonylureas used by diabetics, chloral hydrates used for sleep disorders and acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol). Alcohol may also block the effect of nitroglycerin, said the researchers.
The researchers found through studies in mice that the cellular powerhouses -- known as mitochondria -- break down nitroglycerin to release nitric oxide, thereby opening blood vessels and lowering blood pressure. Nitric oxide normally present in the bloodstream plays a critical role in controlling blood vessel relaxation.
Kendall Morgan | EurekAlert!
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