Measurement and Biological Significance of the Volatile Sulfur Compounds Hydrogen Sulfide, Methanethiol and Dimethyl Sulfide in Various Biological Matrices

J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2009 Oct 15;877(28):3366-77. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2009.05.026. Epub 2009 May 21.


This review deals with the measurement of the volatile sulfur compounds hydrogen sulfide, methanethiol and dimethyl sulfide in various biological matrices of rats and humans (blood, serum, tissues, urine, breath, feces and flatus). Hydrogen sulfide and methanethiol both contain the active thiol (-SH) group and appear in the free gaseous form, in the acid-labile form and in the dithiothreitol-labile form. Dimethyl sulfide is a neutral molecule and exists only in the free form. The foul odor of these sulfur volatiles is a striking characteristic and plays a major role in bad breath, feces and flatus. Because sulfur is a biologically active element, the biological significance of the sulfur volatiles are also highlighted. Despite its highly toxic properties, hydrogen sulfide has been lately recommended to become the third gasotransmitter, next to nitric oxide and carbon monoxide, based on high concentration found in healthy tissues, such as blood and brain. However, there is much doubt about the reliability of the assay methods used. Many artifacts in the sulfide assays exist. The methods to detect the various forms of hydrogen sulfide are critically reviewed and compared with findings of our group. Recent findings that free gaseous hydrogen sulfide is absent in whole blood urged the need to revisit its role as a blood-borne signaling molecule.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Fluids / chemistry
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Sulfide / chemistry*
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / chemistry*
  • Sulfides / chemistry*
  • Volatilization


  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Sulfides
  • methylmercaptan
  • dimethyl sulfide
  • Hydrogen Sulfide