Molecule of the Day

A US Army base in Utah was locked down for some time on Wednesday, because they discovered that they (transiently) misplaced a container of VX – a potent chemical weapon. Like they used in The Rock!


A neurotransmitter called acetylcholine (or ACh) helps your muscles contract, as well as regulating functions as diverse as sweating, heart function, and pupil dilation. When everything is working correctly, ACh is a transient thing. It sends a message – for example, contract this muscle – and it is then broken down by an enzyme. It is important that, once it’s done its job, ACh get broken down so the muscle quits contracting. If it doesn’t get broken down, the muscle will be paralyzed.

VX throws a wrench into the body’s mechanism for breaking down ACh, wreaking havoc on the broad array of ACh-mediated functions found in the body. As such, it’s a potent poison.

The US has destroyed much of its stocks of VX. Today, chemical treatment and incineration are the preferred methods of destroying VX, but some of the earliest VX stock disposal was performed in the colorfully named Operation CHASE (Cut holes and sink ‘em), wherein ships were filled with unwanted weapons and sunk into the ocean.

Interestingly, some molecules much like VX have high enough toxicity to insects and low enough toxicity to humans that they’ve found use as insecticides. Malathion is one such example.


  1. #1 software company
    January 29, 2011

    Acetylcholine has been known to trigger the fear, fight and flight functions in humans, and it is shocking to know that if it does not do its function properly, it could lead to paralysis.
    I feel VX, though it is a potent insecticide, its use should be discontinued as it has similar effects and even mild accidental usage of it may lead to serious effects.

  2. #2 Resume Templates
    March 5, 2011

    Its interesting as well as thought provoking. I would be more interested to know the validity source of claim regarding the interaction of ACh with VX especially with respect to the immunodeficient factor reflected from this post. Insecticides have their own significance but should not be manipulated to avoid serious effects.

  3. #3 mas raden
    June 18, 2011

    wow nice blogpost .. . thats very useful

  4. #4 tahrey
    August 1, 2011

    >>software company

    I wonder if this may be at least partly responsible for the “rabbit in the headlights” effect that can be an alternative response to danger stimuli?

    Adrenals etc, in response to sudden nervous stimulation, pump out too much acetyl-CoA, not enough adrenaline, and even though you want to run you get locked in place…

  5. #5 Ryan Mercer
    December 5, 2011

    See, that makes me paranoid as here in Indiana we actually destroy stockpiles of VX. *shudder*

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