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A pungent gas with an important function

Hydrogen sulphide regulates vital biological processes

Scientists from Bioinorganic Chemistry at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have broken new ground by researching the role and function of hydrogen sulphide in the human body. The findings presented by the researchers from Erlangen have now been published in two acclaimed scientific journals and received excellent international reception.

Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is a poisonous gas which smells like rotten eggs. Surprisingly, it is produced inside the cells in our bodies and has a key physiological importance. Scientists were previously unaware of the true function of hydrogen sulphide at the molecular level within our bodies.

A research group led by Professor Dr. Ivana Ivana-Burmazovic from Bioinorganic Chemistry at FAU was able to demonstrate that hydrogen sulphide reacts with various nitrogen species including NO, NO+ and NO-. These nitrogen molecules are, for instance, used to regulate blood pressure, heart functions, neural transmissions and immune reactions. Hydrogen sulphide allows these nitrogen species to be transported through the cell membrane through a chemical connection to a new HSNO shuttle molecule.

Until now, it was unclear how protein modification caused by nitrogen species was transferred from one protein to the other – especially as proteins cannot be transported through the cell membrane. “We were able to prove that HSNO functions as a new redox signalling species that helps to transfer such protein modifications,” explains Ivana Ivanovic-Burmazovic, who also coordinates the ‘Medicinal Redox Inorganic Chemistry’ project funded by FAU’s Emerging Fields Initiative. “Our findings on the physiological significance of HSNO open new perspectives for the pharmaceutical use of hydrogen sulphide.”

The research conducted by Bioinorganic Chemistry was recognised as ‘News of the Week’ in the American Chemical Society ‘Chemical & Engineering News’ (Volume 90 Issue 28 | p. 5 | News of The Week Issue Date: July 9, 2012) The publication was also selected as a ‘Novel insight into H2S biochemistry and physiology’ in the biochemical journal BJ Energy.

Further information for the press:

Prof. Dr. Ivana Ivanovic-Burmazovic
Tel.: 09131/85-25428
ivana.ivanovic@chemie.uni-erlangen.de