The biology of reactive sulfur species (RSS)

Plant Physiol Biochem. 2012 Oct;59:98-107. doi: 10.1016/j.plaphy.2012.03.016. Epub 2012 Apr 7.


Sulfur is an essential and quantitatively important element for living organisms. Plants contain on average approximately 1 g S kg⁻¹ dry weight (for comparison plants contain approximately 15 g N kg⁻¹ dry weight). Sulfur is a constituent of many organic molecules, for example amino acids such as cysteine and methionine and the small tripeptide glutathione, but sulfur is also essential in the form of Fe-S clusters for the activity of many enzymes, particularly those involved in redox reactions. Sulfur chemistry is therefore important. In particular, sulfur in the form of thiol groups is central to manifold aspects of metabolism. Because thiol groups are oxidized and reduced easily and reversibly, the redox control of cellular metabolism has become an increasing focus of research. In the same way that oxygen and nitrogen have reactive species (ROS and RNS), sulfur too can form reactive molecular species (RSS), for example when a -SH group is oxidized. Indeed, several redox reactions occur via RSS intermediates. Several naturally occurring S-containing molecules are themselves RSS and because they are physiologically active they make up part of the intrinsic plant defence repertoire against herbivore and pathogen attack. Furthermore, RSS can also be used as redox-active pharmacological tools to study cell metabolism. The aim of this review is to familiarize the general reader with some of the chemical concepts, terminology and biology of selected RSS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*
  • Sulfur / chemistry
  • Sulfur / metabolism*


  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Sulfur