Hydrogen sulfide (H2S), long viewed as a toxic gas and environmental hazard, is emerging as a biological mediator with remarkable physiological and pathophysiological relevance. H2S is now viewed as the third main gasotransmitter in the mammalian body. Its pharmacological characteristic possesses similarities to the other two gasotransmitters - nitric oxide (NO) and carbon monoxide (CO). Many of the biological effects of H2S follow a bell-shaped concentration-response; at low concentration or at lower release rates it has beneficial and cytoprotective effects, while at higher concentrations or fast release rates toxicity becomes apparent. Cellular bioenergetics is a prime example for this bell-shaped dose-response, where H2S, at lower concentrations/rates serves as an inorganic substrate and electron donor for mitochondrial ATP generation, while at high concentration it inhibits mitochondrial respiration by blocking the Complex IV in the mitochondrial electron transport chain. The current review is aimed to focus on the following aspects of H2S biology: 1) a general overview of the general pharmacological characteristics of H2S, 2) a summary of the key H2S-mediated signal transduction pathways, 3) an overview of role of H2S in regulation of cellular bioenergetics, 4) key aspects of H2S physiology in C. elegans (a model system) and, finally 5) the therapeutic potential of H2S donating molecules in various disease states.
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