Asked by: Andrew Allan, Cockermouth
Nerve agents attack the human nervous system. Our bodies use a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine to send messages from our nerve cells to activate muscle and organ cells. Usually, an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) clears away the neurotransmitter to allow muscles to relax before being reactivated.
Nerve agents stop AChE from breaking down acetylcholine, so the neurotransmitter builds up and continues to act. Muscles, including those in the heart and respiratory system, are unable to relax and become paralysed, leading to asphyxiation and cardiac arrest within minutes.