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J Am Acad Dermatol. 1995 May;32(5 Pt 1):765-76.

Sulfur mustard: its continuing threat as a chemical warfare agent, the cutaneous lesions induced, progress in understanding its mechanism of action, its long-term health effects, and new developments for protection and therapy.

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Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, Aberdeen, Maryland, USA.


Although sulfur mustard (SM) has been used as a chemical warfare agent since the early twentieth century, it has reemerged in the past decade as a major threat around the world. SM is an agent that is easily produced even in underdeveloped countries and for which there is no effective therapy. This agent is a potential threat not only on the battlefield but also to civilian populations. The skin and other epithelial surfaces are the first targets as this agent is absorbed, and reactions within the skin are the subject of active research into the mechanism of action of this alkylating agent. The depletion of glutathione, generation of reactive oxygen species, and the formation of stable DNA adducts remain theoretic and demonstrated by-products of SM exposure implicated in the disease produced. However, new findings related to the effects of SM on the basement membrane zone; interest in delayed healing of the lesions induced; the inflammatory mediators, enzymes, and cytokines that result; and cellular typing of the inflammatory infiltrate will increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of the lesions caused by SM. In addition, the recent development of a topical skin protectant for SM and for other chemical warfare agents may have broad applications within dermatology.

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