Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Hydrogen sulfide – the gas we hate to smell, but can’t live without

Although hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is most often associated with manure and the smells of rotten eggs, research has shown it plays important physiological roles. In fact, our bodies actually produce H2S within our cells. Other source of H2S include sulfate-producing bacteria in our gut and dietary intake (such as garlic and cruciferous vegetables). H2S is a member of a group of gasotransmitters, referred to as the ‘reactive species interactome’, that regulate physiological processes. This group includes more familiar members such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). H2S is thought to provide long term antioxidant protection through activation of antioxidant enzyme pathways as opposed to direct inhibition of ROS or RNS.

The various physiological roles of H2S were described in a recent article published in Physiological Reviews. At the cellular level, H2S plays a role in regulating cell movement, differentiation, the cell cycle, as well as the function of organelles such as the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria. As summarized in the figure above, H2S also helps regulate the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, bones, cartilage, skeletal muscle, as well as the endocrine and reproductive systems. In addition, H2S plays important physiological roles in red blood cells, immune system support, blood vessel function, pain, vision, taste, smell, hearing, neuronal signaling, learning, and memory.

As you can imagine given its role in regulating so many physiological processes, disruption of H2S can lead to numerous diseases. Too little H2S has been associated with aging, cardiovascular disease, preeclampsia, obesity, liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Huntington’s disease. Too much H2S is also problematic and has been associated with cancer, sleep apnea, Down syndrome, stroke, schizophrenia, and the onset of diabetes. For these reasons, researchers are exploring ways to alter the production of H2S as a way to mitigate or prevent disease.

G Cirino, C Szabo, A Papapetropoulos. Physiological roles of hydrogen sulfide in mammalian cells, tissues, and organs. Physiological Reviews. 103(1): 31-276, 2022.

Categories: Environment, Illnesses and Injuries, Intelligence and Neuroscience, Most Popular, Reproduction and Development, sleep

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