|MadSci Network: Neuroscience|
Cyanide is most commonly encountered through inhalation by the burning of certain plastics and is also found in some paints as well as certain fruit seeds. Cyanide's mechanism of action is that it avidly bins to ferric iron (Fe3+) preventing its reduction to ferrous iron (Fe2+) which is a crucial step in the action of the protein cytochrome oxidase, an essential player in the electron transport system. The tight binding of cyanide prevents oxygen from participating in electron transport. This leads to inhibited production of ATP resulting in hypoxia and low ATP levels. The first organs effected are those with large oxygen requirements (e.g. the brain). Inhibited brain function then results in loss of consciousness and eventually respiratory failure.
Reference: Brody, TM, Larner, JL, and Minneman, KP, Human Pharmacology 3rd edition, Mosby publishers, NY, pp. 867-8.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Neuroscience.