Evolution of and perspectives on therapeutic approaches to nerve agent poisoning

Patrick Masson
Toxicology Letters 2011 September 25, 206 (1): 5-13
After more than 70 years of considerable efforts, research on medical defense against nerve agents has come to a standstill. Major progress in medical countermeasures was achieved between the 50s and 70s with the development of anticholinergic drugs and carbamate-based pretreatment, the introduction of pyridinium oximes as antidotes, and benzodiazepines in emergency treatments. These drugs ensure good protection of the peripheral nervous system and mitigate the acute effects of exposure to lethal doses of nerve agents. However, pyridostigmine and cholinesterase reactivators currently used in the armed forces do not protect/reactivate central acetylcholinesterases. Moreover, other drugs used are not sufficiently effective in protecting the central nervous system against seizures, irreversible brain damages and long-term sequelae of nerve agent poisoning.New developments of medical counter-measures focus on: (a) detoxification of organophosphorus molecules before they react with acetylcholinesterase and other physiological targets by administration of stoichiometric or catalytic scavengers; (b) protection and reactivation of central acetylcholinesterases, and (c) improvement of neuroprotection following delayed therapy.Future developments will aim at treatment of acute and long-term effects of low level exposure to nerve agents, research on alternative routes for optimizing drug delivery, and therapies. Though gene therapy for in situ generation of bioscavengers, and cell therapy based on neural progenitor engraftment for neuronal regeneration have been successfully explored, more studies are needed before practical medical applications can be made of these new approaches.

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