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Sarin: Potential Long-term Neurological Effects

Molecular stucture of Sarin

Sarin is a highly toxic organophosphorus nerve agent that was developed for chemical warfare during World War II and continues to be used as a weapon today. We know that exposure to sarin can result in death, or short-term health effects including seizures, paralysis, and difficulty breathing within 24 hours of exposure.

In contrast, long-term health effects of sarin exposure could be observed days, weeks, or years after exposure. Although there are reports of potential long-term neurological effects from sarin exposure, the evidence has not been evaluated with the increased objectivity, rigor, and transparent process of systematic review.

Previous literature reviews of potential long-term health effects of sarin have generally not assessed individual study quality or considered a combination of human, animal, and mechanistic data. In addition, the interpretations of health effects in some of these reviews were confounded by concurrent exposure to multiple chemicals, as may have occurred with military personnel exposed during the Gulf War or other conflicts. This makes it difficult to discern whether health effects observed are from sarin or other chemicals.

To address these limitations, NTP is conducting a systematic review to evaluate the evidence of long-term neurological damage in humans after acute, sub-lethal exposure to sarin. This review was requested by the Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats (CounterACT) program at the National Institutes of Health, and used the CounterACT definition of long-term neurological damage as symptoms observed or reported more than 24 hours after exposure.