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Anesthesiology. 2001 Jun;94(6):1113-8.

Inhaled nitric oxide improves survival rates during hypoxia in a sickle cell (SAD) mouse model.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesia Critical Care, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, 02114, USA.



The hallmark of sickle cell disease (SCD) is erythrocyte sickling during deoxygenation of the abnormal hemoglobin S (HbS). When HbS is deoxygenated, it aggregates into polymers, resulting in distortion of the erythrocyte structure, producing microvascular thrombosis and ischemia. The transgenic SAD mouse produces three types of human hemoglobin: S, Antilles, and D-Punjab (HbSAD) and provides an animal model for SCD. We studied the effects of nitric oxide (NO) breathing at various doses and time regimens in the presence of severe hypoxia (6% oxygen) using the SAD mouse model.


Age- and sex-matched control and SAD mice were exposed to 6% oxygen breathing in an environmental chamber and assessed for survival up to 1 h. Animals received different inhaled NO concentrations before and/or during hypoxia. Blood was obtained to evaluate the oxyhemoglobin dissociation curve and measure methemoglobinemia.


Pretreatment by breathing NO at 20 ppm by volume in air for 30 min, and continuing to breathe 20 ppm NO during hypoxia resulted in improvement in survival rates in the SAD mouse (75%, n = 8) as compared with control SAD mice (11%, n = 9; P < 0.001). Pretreatment alone or breathing lower doses of NO were not protective. Changes in HbSAD oxygen affinity were not detected with NO breathing, and methemoglobin levels were low in all surviving mice.


Breathing NO produced a rapid, protective effect to severe hypoxic stress in SAD mice. There appears to be a required loading period between NO breathing and its beneficial effect during hypoxic stress, possibly because of the total amount of NO delivered to SAD hemoglobin, blood cell components, and endothelium. NO breathing may be beneficial as a therapeutic intervention in SCD.

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