Rodent of the week: Rotten eggs and you

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Here’s a gee-whiz fact: The control of mammalian blood pressure depends on a gas that smells like rotten eggs -- hydrogen sulfide. So we learn from a study of mutant mice published this week in the journal Science. Researchers genetically engineered mice to under-produce hydrogen sulfide, which is made by the endothelial cells lining blood vessels. They measured the animals’ blood pressure using tiny blood pressure cuffs applied to the animals’ tails. The result: hypertensive mice.

Hydrogen sulfide, it appears, acts to relax blood vessels, and if the mouse doesn’t make the gas it can’t control its blood pressure.

Hydrogen sulfide is thus the latest gas found to do useful stuff in the body. (Scientists call these useful gases ‘gasotransmitters.’) Others are carbon monoxide and nitric oxide, the latter famously involved in blood pressure control, including the production of erections. Perhaps hydrogen sulfide has an involvement there too.

--Rosie Mestel