Chemical foundations of hydrogen sulfide biology

Nitric Oxide. 2013 Nov 30;35:21-34. doi: 10.1016/j.niox.2013.07.001. Epub 2013 Jul 9.


Following nitric oxide (nitrogen monoxide) and carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide (or its newer systematic name sulfane, H2S) became the third small molecule that can be both toxic and beneficial depending on the concentration. In spite of its impressive therapeutic potential, the underlying mechanisms for its beneficial effects remain unclear. Any novel mechanism has to obey fundamental chemical principles. H2S chemistry was studied long before its biological relevance was discovered, however, with a few exceptions, these past works have received relatively little attention in the path of exploring the mechanistic conundrum of H2S biological functions. This review calls attention to the basic physical and chemical properties of H2S, focuses on the chemistry between H2S and its three potential biological targets: oxidants, metals and thiol derivatives, discusses the applications of these basics into H2S biology and methodology, and introduces the standard terminology to this youthful field.

Keywords: Hydrogen sulfide; Metal; Oxidants; Sulfane; Sulfhydration; Transsulfuration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biochemistry*
  • Heme / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Sulfide / metabolism*
  • Metals / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Oxides / metabolism
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism


  • Metals
  • Oxides
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Heme
  • Hydrogen Sulfide