The slow-releasing hydrogen sulfide donor, GYY4137, exhibits novel anti-cancer effects in vitro and in vivo

PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21077. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021077. Epub 2011 Jun 20.


The slow-releasing hydrogen sulfide (H₂S) donor, GYY4137, caused concentration-dependent killing of seven different human cancer cell lines (HeLa, HCT-116, Hep G2, HL-60, MCF-7, MV4-11 and U2OS) but did not affect survival of normal human lung fibroblasts (IMR90, WI-38) as determined by trypan blue exclusion. Sodium hydrosulfide (NaHS) was less potent and not active in all cell lines. A structural analogue of GYY4137 (ZYJ1122) lacking sulfur and thence not able to release H₂S was inactive. Similar results were obtained using a clonogenic assay. Incubation of GYY4137 (400 µM) in culture medium led to the generation of low (<20 µM) concentrations of H₂S sustained over 7 days. In contrast, incubation of NaHS (400 µM) in the same way led to much higher (up to 400 µM) concentrations of H₂S which persisted for only 1 hour. Mechanistic studies revealed that GYY4137 (400 µM) incubated for 5 days with MCF-7 but not IMR90 cells caused the generation of cleaved PARP and cleaved caspase 9, indicative of a pro-apoptotic effect. GYY4137 (but not ZYJ1122) also caused partial G₂/M arrest of these cells. Mice xenograft studies using HL-60 and MV4-11 cells showed that GYY4137 (100-300 mg/kg/day for 14 days) significantly reduced tumor growth. We conclude that GYY4137 exhibits anti-cancer activity by releasing H₂S over a period of days. We also propose that a combination of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest contributes to this effect and that H₂S donors should be investigated further as potential anti-cancer agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Female
  • HCT116 Cells
  • HL-60 Cells
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Sulfide / chemistry*
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Morpholines / chemistry
  • Morpholines / pharmacology*
  • Morpholines / therapeutic use*
  • Organothiophosphorus Compounds / chemistry
  • Organothiophosphorus Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Organothiophosphorus Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • GYY 4137
  • Morpholines
  • Organothiophosphorus Compounds
  • Hydrogen Sulfide