The ferrous iron of hemoglobin is exposed continuously to high concentrations of oxygen and, thereby, is oxidized slowly to methemoglobin, a protein unable to carry oxygen. To restore hemoglobin function, methemoglobin (ferrihemoglobin) must be reduced to hemoglobin (ferrohemoglobin). Under physiological conditions, methemoglobin reduction is accomplished mainly by red cell NADH-cytochrome b5 reductase (NADH-methemoglobin reductase) so efficiently that there is insignificant amounts of methemoglobin in the circulating blood. However, should methemoglobin formation be increased--e.g., due to the presence of oxidant drugs, or an abnormal methemoglobin not amenable to reduction (hemoglobin M), or a deficiency in red cell cytochrome b5 reductase--methemoglobinemia will result. Most methemoglobinemias have no adverse clinical consequences and need not be treated. Under certain conditions, such as exposure to large amounts of oxidant or in young infants, rapid treatment is necessary. In hereditary cytochrome b5 deficiency, treatment is often directed at improving the poor cosmetic effect of persistent cyanosis with the minimum amount of drugs to give satisfactory clinical results.
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