Originally posted by StationsCreation
Very informative BlackJackal
You know the movie 'The Rock', does nerve gas like that exist?
Or is that just typical Hollywood.
The Nerve gas in the movie The Rock is VX nerve gas; VX is not a Hollywood invention: it's the most deadly nerve agent in existence. Developed as a
pesticide at the Chemical Defense Experimental Establishment at Porton Down, England in 1952, only 0.3 mg orally is fatal. A light brown odorless
liquid similar in appearance to motor oil, it's three times deadlier than Sarin, the chemical used with devastating results in the Tokyo subway gas
attack (and the gas hidden in the doll in the beginning of the movie). VX can be inhaled or absorbed by the skin. Upon exposure, the symptoms include
tightness of chest, difficulty in breathing, convulsion, coma and death.
VX acts by interfering with the way muscles work. A muscle will only move by receiving an electrical signal from the brain (via a nerve) that tells it
to do so. Between the nerve and the muscle there is a gap called a synapse, and for the signal to continue into the muscle it has to somehow jump that
gap. This is done by the release of the chemical acetylcholine, which "carries" the impulse across the gap to the muscle, allowing it to
As soon as the impulse has crossed the gap, another chemical, cholinesterase, is released and breaks down the acetylcholine, allowing the nerve to
return to its resting state, ready for the next impulse it receives. VX nerve agent is a cholinesterase inhibitor, meaning it interferes with the
production of cholinesterase. That prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, allowing it to build up in the synapses. With nothing letting the nerve
return to its resting state, it fires continuously, causing the muscles to move uncontrollably; the result is convulsion and the inability to breathe.
For that reason, VX (and agents like it) are extremely effective against insects and rodents, which is why it was initially developed as a pesticide.
Unfortunately, it causes the same effects in humans.
Since nerve agents can be absorbed through any body surface, upon exposure it is absolutely crucial that decontamination procedures occur at once. You
can see those procedures in action at the beginning of The Rock. In that scene, Goodspeed and his assistant are working in a sealed booth,
investigating a mysterious package sent from Bosnia; it opens and sprays Sarin over them both. As the Sarin, which, like any nerve agent can penetrate
clothing, starts to eat through their protective suits (a little bit of creative license on behalf of the film-makers; see the Miscellaneous Notes
page), the sprinkler system designed to wash the agent off their bodies fails to work. Before the Sarin comes in contact with their skin, they are
told to inject atropine into their hearts as a preventative measure (a mistake: atropine should never be injected before exposure.)
The part of the nerve structure on the smooth muscle that responds to acetylcholine is called a muscarinic receptor. Atropine acts not by interfering
with the formation of acetylcholine, but by blocking its effects, targeting the muscarinic receptors and preventing the acetylcholine from binding to
them. If it can't bind to the receptors, the acetylcholine can't perform its function of transmitting the nerve impulse. If the nerve impulse can't
get transmitted to the muscle, the effects of the nerve agent (uncontrollable smooth muscle movement) are halted.
At the end of the film, Goodspeed has been exposed to a sizable amount of VX. He quickly grabs a syringe full of atropine from his uniform, uncaps the
needle, and drives it into his heart. While very exciting, this is not the way it's done in real life. In a real exposure situation, the person would
be under extreme stress; it would be too difficult to even find the right part of the heart to inject (the heart is protected by the ribs; any
injection would have to be aimed precisely in order to hit the mark).
Normally, the site used for atropine injection is the large muscle of the thigh. Failing that, any large muscle will suffice; the goal is to get the
atropine to the muscarinic receptors as fast as possible. Seconds count, as the effects of the VX occur almost immediately.
The usual method of administering the atropine is by autoinjector, a pressure activated spring loaded device that automatically injects the drug
through the clothes and directly into the system. The autoinjector is held against the thigh, pressure is applied, the needle is pushed into the
muscle and held there for 10 seconds. It takes up to 15 minutes after the injection for the antidote to take effect. At that point, the first signs of
atropinization occur: a dry mouth and rapid heartbeat. If those symptoms are seen, no further treatment is necessary (and in fact may be detrimental;
atropine overdose can be incapacitating). If indications of nerve agent poisoning are still seen, then a second dose of antidote may have to be