Hydrogen sulfide (H(2)S) is mainly known for its toxicity but has recently been shown to be produced endogenously in mammalian tissues and to be associated with physiological regulatory functions. To better understand the role of biomembranes in modulating its biological distribution and effects; we measured the partition coefficient of H(2)S in models of biological membranes. The partition coefficients were found to be 2.1±0.2, 1.9±0.5 and 2.0±0.6 in n-octanol, hexane and dilauroylphosphatidylcholine liposome membranes relative to water, respectively (25°C). This two-fold higher concentration of H(2)S in the membrane translates into a rapid membrane permeability, P(m) = 3 cm s(-1). We used a mathematical model in three dimensions to gain insight into the diffusion of total sulfide in tissues. This model shows that the sphere of action of sulfide produced by a single cell expands to involve more than 200 neighboring cells, and that the resistance imposed by lipid membranes has a significant effect on the diffusional spread of sulfide at pH 7.4, increasing local concentrations. These results support the role of hydrogen sulfide as a paracrine signaling molecule and reveal advantageous pharmacokinetic properties for its therapeutic applications.