Toxicity, Immunosuppressive Effects and Carcinogenic Potential of Volatile Nitrites: Possible Relationship to Kaposi's Sarcoma

Guy R. Newell, Stephen C. Adams, Peter W.A. Mansell, Evan M. Hersh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Volatile nitrite in the form of amyl nitrite was used for 100 years for the treatment of angina pectoris. In spite of recognized toxicity, its use in this form was considered safe. During the 1960s prescriptions were not required for purchase of amyl nitrite (called poppers) and its use for recreational purposes became popular. With reinstatement of the prescription requirement in 1969, non‐medicinal, street‐variety volatile nitrites were made commercially available in the form of mixtures of impure butyl and isobutyl nitrite; some of these preparations also included amyl nitrite. These products have been found to be profoundly immunosuppressive for human lymphocytes in vitro, and their by‐products when metabolized into N‐nitroso compounds have been known to be highly carcinogenic in many animal species. Recreational use of inhaled volatile nitrites is prevalent among male homosexuals and the compounds have been suspected as possible cofactors in Kaposi's sarcoma associated with the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This association could be explained by nitrite‐induced vasodilation of rectal mucosal vessels providing a port of entry for a transmissible agent, by direct immunosuppression of the host allowing expression of a potentially oncogenic virus or by co‐carcinogenic effects of by‐products by themselves or in conjunction with other putative cofactors such as cytomegalovirus. Nitrites should continue to be considered as a possible cofactor in the etiology of Kaposi's Sarcoma among male homosexuals and possibly those with other manifestations of AIDS. 1984 Pharmacotherapy Publications Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)284-291
Number of pages8
JournalPharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Toxicity, Immunosuppressive Effects and Carcinogenic Potential of Volatile Nitrites: Possible Relationship to Kaposi's Sarcoma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this