Cysteine trisulfide oxidizes protein thiols and induces electrophilic stress in human cells

Christopher H. Switzer*, Sebastian Guttzeit, Thomas R. Eykyn, Philip Eaton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The cellular effects of hydrogen sulfide (H S) signaling may be partially mediated by the formation of alkyl persulfides from thiols, such as glutathione and protein cysteine residues. Persulfides are potent nucleophiles and reductants and therefore potentially an important endogenous antioxidant or protein post-translational modification. To directly study the cellular effects of persulfides, cysteine trisulfide (Cys-S ) has been proposed as an in situ persulfide donor, as it reacts with cellular thiols to generate cysteine persulfide (Cys-S-S ). Numerous pathways sense and respond to electrophilic cellular stressors to inhibit cellular proliferation and induce apoptosis, however the effect of Cys-S on the cellular stress response has not been addressed. Here we show that Cys-S inhibited cellular metabolism and proliferation and rapidly induced cellular- and ER-stress mechanisms, which were coupled to widespread protein-thiol oxidation. Cys-S reacted with Na S to generate cysteine persulfide, which protected human cell lines from ER-stress. However this method of producing cysteine persulfide contains excess sulfide, which interferes with the direct analysis of persulfide donation. We conclude that cysteine trisulfide is a thiol oxidant that induces cellular stress and decreased proliferation. [Abstract copyright: Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier B.V.]
Original languageEnglish
Article number102155
JournalRedox Biology
Early online date29 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Electrophilic stress
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Persulfide
  • Polysulfide
  • Trisulfide


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