Hydrogen sulfide: An endogenous regulator of the immune system

Nahzli Dilek, Andreas Papapetropoulos, Tracy Toliver-Kinsky, Csaba Szabo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is now recognized as an endogenous signaling gasotransmitter in mammals. It is produced by mammalian cells and tissues by various enzymes - predominantly cystathionine β-synthase (CBS), cystathionine γ-lyase (CSE) and 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase (3-MST) - but part of the H2S is produced by the intestinal microbiota (colonic H2S-producing bacteria). Here we summarize the available information on the production and functional role of H2S in the various cell types typically associated with innate immunity (neutrophils, macrophages, dendritic cells, natural killer cells, mast cells, basophils, eosinophils) and adaptive immunity (T and B lymphocytes) under normal conditions and as it relates to the development of various inflammatory and immune diseases. Special attention is paid to the physiological and the pathophysiological aspects of the oral cavity and the colon, where the immune cells and the parenchymal cells are exposed to a special “H2S environment” due to bacterial H2S production. H2S has many cellular and molecular targets. Immune cells are “surrounded” by a “cloud” of H2S, as a result of endogenous H2S production and exogenous production from the surrounding parenchymal cells, which, in turn, importantly regulates their viability and function. Downregulation of endogenous H2S producing enzymes in various diseases, or genetic defects in H2S biosynthetic enzyme systems either lead to the development of spontaneous autoimmune disease or accelerate the onset and worsen the severity of various immune-mediated diseases (e.g. autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis or asthma). Low, regulated amounts of H2S, when therapeutically delivered by small molecule donors, improve the function of various immune cells, and protect them against dysfunction induced by various noxious stimuli (e.g. reactive oxygen species or oxidized LDL). These effects of H2S contribute to the maintenance of immune functions, can stimulate antimicrobial defenses and can exert anti-inflammatory therapeutic effects in various diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105119
JournalPharmacological Research
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Cytokines
  • Gasotransmitter
  • Immunity
  • Inflammation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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