The formation of hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan by oral bacteria

Oral Microbiol Immunol. 1990 Aug;5(4):195-201. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-302x.1990.tb00645.x.


The capacity to form volatile sulfur compounds was tested in bacteria isolated from subgingival microbiotas and in a representative number of reference strains. A majority of the 75 tested oral bacterial species and 7 unnamed bacterial taxa formed significant amounts of hydrogen sulfide from L-cysteine. The most active bacteria were found in the genera Peptostreptococcus, Eubacterium, Selenomonas, Centipeda, Bacteroides and Fusobacterium. Methyl mercaptan from L-methionine was formed by some members of the genera Fusobacterium, Bacteroides, Porphyromonas and Eubacterium. When incubated in serum for 7 d, the most potent producers of hydrogen sulfide were Treponema denticola and the black-pigmented species, Bacteroides intermedius, Bacteroides loescheii, Porphyromonas endodontalis and Porphyromonas gingivalis. P. endodontalis and P. gingivalis also produced significant amounts of methyl mercaptan in serum. No other volatile sulfur compound was detected in serum or in the presence of L-cysteine and L-methionine. These findings significantly increase the list of oral bacteria known to produce volatile sulfur compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteroides / metabolism
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Eubacterium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Sulfide / metabolism*
  • Periodontal Pocket / microbiology*
  • Streptococcus / metabolism
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*


  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • methylmercaptan
  • Cysteine
  • Hydrogen Sulfide