Significance: The current literature regarding the effects of the gaseous signal molecule hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the gastrointestinal system is reviewed. Bacterial, host and pharmaceutical-derived H2S are all considered and presented according to the physiological or pathophysiological effects of the gaseous signal molecule. These subjects include the toxicology of intestinal H2S with emphasis on bacterial-derived H2S, especially from sulfate-reducing bacteria, the role of endogenous and exogenous H2S in intestinal inflammation, and the roles of H2S in gastrointestinal motility, secretion and nociception.
Recent advances: While its pro- and anti-inflammatory, smooth muscle relaxant, prosecretory, and pro- and antinociceptive actions continue to remain the major effects of H2S in this system; recent findings have expanded the potential molecular targets for H2S in the gastrointestinal tract.
Critical issues: Numerous discrepancies remain in the literature, and definitive molecular targets in this system have not been supported by the use of competitive antagonism.
Future directions: Future work will hopefully resolve discrepancies in the literature and identify molecular targets and mechanisms of action for H2S. It is clear from the current literature that the long-appreciated relationship between H2S and the gastrointestinal tract continues to be strong as we endeavor to unravel its mysteries.