Catastrophic cardiovascular adverse reactions to protamine are nitric oxide/cyclic guanosine monophosphate dependent and endothelium mediated: should methylene blue be the treatment of choice?

Chest. 2002 Sep;122(3):1061-6. doi: 10.1378/chest.122.3.1061.


Clinical and experimental observations prove that heparin-neutralizing doses of protamine increase pulmonary artery pressures and decrease systemic BP. Protamine also increases myocardial oxygen consumption, cardiac output, and heart rate, and decreases systemic vascular resistance. These cardiovascular effects have clinical consequences that have justified studies in this area. Protamine adverse reactions usually have three different categories: systemic hypotension, anaphylactoid reactions, and catastrophic pulmonary vasoconstriction. The precise mechanism that explains protamine-mediated systemic hypotension is unknown. Four experimental protocols performed at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, studied the intrinsic mechanism of protamine vasodilation. The first study reported in vitro systemic and coronary vasodilation after protamine infusion. The second in vitro study suggested that the pulmonary circulation is extensively involved in the protamine-mediated effects on endothelial function. The third study, carried out in anesthetized dogs, reported the methylene blue and nitric oxide synthase blockers neutralization of the protamine vasodilatatory effects. The fourth study suggested that protamine also causes endothelium-dependent vasodilation in heart microvessels and conductance arteries by different mechanisms including hyperpolarization. Reviewing these experimental results and our clinical experience, we suggest methylene blue as a novel approach to prevent and treat hemodynamic complications caused by the use of protamine after cardiopulmonary bypass. In the absence of prospective clinical trials, a growing body of cumulative clinical evidence suggests that methylene blue may be strongly considered as a therapeutic approach in the treatment of distributive shock.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anaphylaxis / chemically induced*
  • Anaphylaxis / drug therapy
  • Anaphylaxis / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Cyclic GMP / physiology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects*
  • Hemodynamics / physiology
  • Humans
  • Methylene Blue / therapeutic use*
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Protamines / adverse effects*
  • Shock / chemically induced*
  • Shock / drug therapy
  • Shock / physiopathology


  • Protamines
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Cyclic GMP
  • Methylene Blue