The diverse biological properties of the chemically inert noble gases

David Alan Winkler, A Thornton, Geraldine Farjot, Ira Katz

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    48 Citations (Scopus)


    The noble gases represent an intriguing scientific paradox. They are extremely inert chemically but display a remarkable spectrum of clinically useful biological properties. Despite a relative paucity of knowledge of their mechanisms of action, some of the noble gases have been used successfully in the clinic. Studies with xenon have suggested that the noble gases as a class may exhibit valuable biological properties such as anaesthesia; amelioration of ischemic damage; tissue protection prior to transplantation; analgesic properties; and a potentially wide range of other clinically useful effects. Xenon has been shown to be safe in humans, and has useful pharmacokinetic properties such as rapid onset, fast wash out etc. The main limitations in wider use are that: many of the fundamental biochemical studies are still lacking; the lighter noble gases are likely to manifest their properties only under hyperbaric conditions, impractical in surgery; and administration of xenon using convectional gaseous anaesthesia equipment is inefficient, making its use very expensive. There is nonetheless a significant body of published literature on the biochemical, pharmacological, and clinical properties of noble gases but no comprehensive reviews exist that summarize their properties and the existing knowledge of their models of action at the molecular (atomic) level. This review provides such an up-to-date summary of the extensive, useful biological properties of noble gases as drugs and prospects for wider application of these atoms.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)44-64
    Number of pages21
    JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


    • Chemically inert
    • Clinical applications
    • Drug delivery
    • In vitro and in vivo studies
    • Noble gases


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