Hydrogen sulfide and cancer

Mark Hellmich, Csaba Szabo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

70 Scopus citations


Recent studies revealed increased expression of various hydrogen sulfide (H<inf>2</inf>S)- producing enzymes in cancer cells of various tissue types, and new roles of H<inf>2</inf>S in the pathophysiology of cancer have emerged. This is particularly evident in cancers of the colon and ovaries, where the malignant cells both overexpress cystathionine-β-synthase (CBS) and produce increased amounts of H<inf>2</inf>S, which enhances tumor growth and spread by (a) stimulating cellular bioenergetics, (b) activating proliferative, migratory, and invasive signaling pathways, and (c) enhancing tumor angiogenesis. Importantly, in preclinical models of these cancers, either pharmacological inhibition or genetic silencing of CBS was shown to be sufficient to suppress cancer cell bioenergetics in vitro, inhibit tumor growth and metastasis in vivo, and enhance the antitumor efficacy of frontline chemotherapeutic agents, providing a strong rationale for the development of CBS-targeted inhibitors as anticancer therapies. However, the observation that inhibition of H<inf>2</inf>S biosynthesis exerts anticancer effects is contradicted by other studies showing that increasing H<inf>2</inf>S with exogenous donors also exerts antitumor actions. Herein, we present a brief review of the scientific literature documenting the function of H<inf>2</inf>S, H<inf>2</inf>S donors, and transsulfuration enzymes in cancers from various tissue types, and propose that the paradoxical actions of H<inf>2</inf>S can be resolved by considering the bell-shaped pharmacology of H<inf>2</inf>S, whereby lower (endogenous) H<inf>2</inf>S production tends to promote, while higher (generated from exogenously added H<inf>2</inf>S donors) tends to inhibit cancer cell proliferation. Finally, we suggest areas for future investigations to expand our knowledge of this nascent field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-241
Number of pages9
JournalHandbook of Experimental Pharmacology
StatePublished - 2015



  • Angiogenesis
  • Bioenergetics
  • Cancer
  • Hydrogen sulphide
  • Mitochondria
  • Proliferation
  • Signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)
  • Biochemistry

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