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Toxicology. 2006 Dec 7;228(2-3):280-90. Epub 2006 Sep 29.

Chronic inhalation of carbon monoxide: effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular system at doses corresponding to tobacco smoking.

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Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. <>


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a dangerous poison in high concentrations, but the long-term effects of low doses of CO, as in the gaseous component of tobacco smoke, are not well known. The aims of our study were to evaluate the long-term effects of inhaled CO on the respiratory and cardiovascular system at doses corresponding to tobacco smoking and its effect on tumourigenesis and pulmonary neuroendocrine (NE) cells. Female Wistar rats were exposed to either CO (200 ppm) for 20 h/day (n=51) or air (n=26) for 72 weeks. Carboxyhaemoglobin was 14.7+/-0.3% in CO exposed animals and 0.3+/-0.1% in controls. In the lungs, no signs of pathology similar to that associated with cigarette smoking were observed, and no differences in number of pulmonary NE cells were observed between the groups. Chronic CO inhalation induced a 20% weight increase of the right ventricle (p=0.001) and a 14% weight increase of the left ventricle and interventricular septum (p<0.001). Histological examination of the myocardium did not reveal any signs of scarring. In the aorta and femoral artery, no signs of atherosclerosis were observed in CO exposed rats. No exposure related carcinogenic effects were observed. Spontaneous tumours were identified in 29% of CO exposed animals and in 28% of the controls. Our results suggest that low dose CO exposure is probably not responsible for the respiratory pathology associated with tobacco smoking. The effects on the cardiovascular system seem to involve myocardial hypertrophy, but not atherogenesis.

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