Reading this article on Wikipedia: Xenon Medical applications I see that Xenon can be used as an anesthetic, neuroprotectant and doping agent.

If it is a noble gas, and thus, chemically stable, how can it have those properties?

If Xenon does not react with any other substance, how does this happen, from a chemical point of view?

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    $\begingroup$ Very similar to this question put on hold. It would have been better to edit the previous question to improve it than to ask a new question. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ I sent myself that question, was under an old account and can not edit. Rewritten anyway. $\endgroup$
    – user435943
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ @BenNorris Thanks for point that out. I have deleted that one, since it had the account issue that the OP mentioned. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ From what I have briefly gathered, the concept behind the usage as a doping agent is basically letting the subjects breath less oxygen thus achieving effects similar to altitude training. This basically exploits the physical properties of Xenon (its heavier than the main components of air and thus stays in the lung) and its inertness (it does not have any harmful effects). $\endgroup$
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ Somehow, this reminds me of the sign I saw at MIT many years ago: "DANGER: ARGON STORAGE AREA". I always wondered whether that was a chemistry joke or if they were concerned about a possible smothering hazard... $\endgroup$
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 18:13

2 Answers 2


Chemist Neil Bartlett in 1962 discovered that although Xenon was a noble gas, it is able to form compounds with other substances even though it is chemically "inert."

Neil Bartlett, at the time in 1961, produced an unidentified red solid and discovered that the red solid was a reaction between gaseous fluoride, platinum hexafluoride ($\ce{PtF6}$) and oxygen that was oxidized. Finally, determining the chemical structure, they found that the red solid was $\ce{O^{2+}PtF6}$.

Oxygen is a powerful oxidizing agent, being consumed in many combustion reactions. However, Bartlett believed that the platinum hexafluoride ($\ce{PtF6}$) was a stronger oxidizing agent than oxygen, and oxygen is instead reduced. Bartlett then believed if the oxidation of oxygen was possible, he could apply this xenon.

Because my co-workers at that time (March 23, 1962) were still not sufficiently experienced to help me with the glassblowing and the preparation and purification of $\ce{PtF6}$ [platinum hexafluoride] necessary for the experiment, I was not ready to carry it out until about 7 p.m. on that Friday. When I broke the seal between the red PtF6 gas and the colorless xenon gas, there was an immediate interaction, causing an orange-yellow solid to precipitate. At once, I tried to find someone with whom to share the exciting finding, but it appeared that everyone had left for dinner!

The discovered new compound was xenon hexafluoroplatinate ($\ce{XePtF6}$). Bartlett's important contribution to chemistry is a series of noble gas compounds with specific and useful properties.

In regards to your question on how xenon can be so diverse, with over "100 noble gas compounds known today..."

Noble gas compounds have already made an impact on our daily lives. $\ce{XeF2}$ has been used to convert uracil to 5-fluorouracil, one of the first anti-tumor agents. The reactivity of radon means that it can be chemically scrubbed from the air in uranium mines and other mines. Excimer lasers use compounds of argon, krypton or xenon to produce precise beams of ultraviolet light (when electrically stimulated) that are used to perform eye surgery for vision repair.

Material derived from a highly interesting article from the American Chemical Society. http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/bartlettnoblegases.html

Looking at the literature:

  • Neuroprotection

For the use of Xeon during mechanical ventilation, an article examining the neuroprotective effects of xenon,

Neuroprotection against traumatic brain injury by xenon, but not argon, is mediated by inhibition at the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor glycine site.

  • Anti-Tumor Agent

Noble gas compounds have already made an impact on our daily lives. $\ce{XeF2}$ has been used to convert uracil to 5-fluorouracil, one of the first anti-tumor agents.

The American Cancer states that

Fluorouracil belongs to the class of chemotherapy drugs known as anti-metabolites. It interferes with cells making DNA and RNA, which stops the growth of cancer cells.

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  • Anesthesia

I'm still looking for literature to add here. Some of these cover very complex physiological processes, and this is not my area of expertise. I will try to find more pertinent articles from peer-reviewed journals with high enough impact and relevance. It will be up to the poster of this question to explore in-depth as much as they need by starting at some of the literature I provide.

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    $\begingroup$ A nice introduction to "real" xenon chemistry. But you will certainly agree that the conditions for their synthesis aren't really physiological ;) So, it is not very likely that xenon is oxidized in the binding site of a protein. There must be another sort of interaction between the noble gas and the protein. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ @KlausWarzecha Ah, you're right! Thanks for letting me know. Surely there must be some literature about xenon compounds and physiological response. There are many such compounds and I will try to find some good examples tomorrow. $\endgroup$
    – user3735
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ If you have some additional insights on chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/235/…, I'd enjoy hearing them. I first learned about Neil Bartlett in high school and I have always been fascinated by his work. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ All that being said, as @KlausWarzecha has pointed out in his comment, this doesn't directly answer the question. Since you have agreed to rework it, and it has the beginnings of a great answer, I will let it stand for now. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 8:00

If Xeon does not react with any other chemical, how does this happen, from a chemical point of view?

It's not necessary to form covalent or ionic bonds to hold the pieces together.

Weak dispersion forces, recently described by Ben Norris here on this site are apparently enough in the examples above. These forces are also responsible for the binding of xenon to proteins.

For further information, you might want to have a look at the work of Seth M. Rubin, who did a lot on $\ce{^{129}Xe}$ NMR spectroscopy in proteines.


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