Physiological Implications of Hydrogen Sulfide: A Whiff Exploration That Blossomed

Rui Wang


The important life-supporting role of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) has evolved from bacteria to plants, invertebrates, vertebrates, and finally to mammals. Over the centuries, however, H2S had only been known for its toxicity and environmental hazard. Physiological importance of H2S has been appreciated for about a decade. It started by the discovery of endogenous H2S production in mammalian cells and gained momentum by typifying this gasotransmitter with a variety of physiological functions. The H2S-catalyzing enzymes are differentially expressed in cardiovascular, neuronal, immune, renal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, reproductive, liver, and endocrine systems and affect the functions of these systems through the production of H2S. The physiological functions of H2S are mediated by different molecular targets, such as different ion channels and signaling proteins. Alternations of H2S metabolism lead to an array of pathological disturbances in the form of hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart failure, diabetes, cirrhosis, inflammation, sepsis, neurodegenerative disease, erectile dysfunction, and asthma, to name a few. Many new technologies have been developed to detect endogenous H2S production, and novel H2S-delivery compounds have been invented to aid therapeutic intervention of diseases related to abnormal H2S metabolism. While acknowledging the challenges ahead, research on H2S physiology and medicine is entering an exponential exploration era.

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