Colonic bacteria liberate large quantities of the highly toxic gases hydrogen sulfide (H(2)S) and methanethiol (CH(3)SH). The colonic mucosa presumably has an efficient means of detoxifying these compounds, which is thought to occur through methylation of H(2)S to CH(3)SH and CH(3)SH to dimethylsulfide (CH(3)SCH(3)). We investigated this detoxification pathway by incubating rat cecal mucosal homogenates with gas containing H(2)S, CH(3)SH, or CH(3)SCH(3). Neither CH(3)SH nor CH(3)SCH(3) was produced during H(2)S catabolism, whereas catabolism of CH(3)SH liberated H(2)S but not CH(3)SCH(3). Thus, H(2)S and CH(3)SH are not detoxified by methylation to CH(3)SCH(3). Rather, CH(3)SH is demethylated to H(2)S, and H(2)S is converted to nonvolatile metabolites. HPLC analysis of the homogenate showed the metabolite to be primarily thiosulfate. Analysis of cecal venous blood obtained after intracecal instillation of H(2)(35)S revealed that virtually all absorbed H(2)S had been oxidized to thiosulfate. The oxidation rate of H(2)S by colonic mucosa was 10,000 times greater than the reported methylation rate. Conversion to thiosulfate appears to be the mechanism whereby the cecal mucosa protects itself from the injurious effects of H(2)S and CH(3)SH, and defects in this detoxification possibly could play a role in colonic diseases such as ulcerative colitis.