Hydrogen sulfide (H2S), an endogenously produced small molecule, protects animals from various stresses. Recent studies demonstrate that animals exposed to H2S are long lived, resistant to hypoxia, and resistant to ischemia–reperfusion injury. We performed a forward genetic screen to gain insights into the molecular mechanisms Caenorhabditis elegans uses to appropriately respond to H2S. At least two distinct pathways appear to be important for this response, including the H2S-oxidation pathway and the hydrogen cyanide (HCN)-assimilation pathway. The H2S-oxidation pathway requires two distinct enzymes important for the oxidation of H2S: the sulfide:quinone reductase sqrd-1 and the dioxygenase ethe-1. The HCN-assimilation pathway requires the cysteine synthase homologs cysl-1 and cysl-2. A low dose of either H2S or HCN can activate hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), which is required for C. elegans to respond to either gas. sqrd-1 and cysl-2 represent the entry points in the H2S-oxidation and HCN-assimilation pathways, respectively, and expression of both of these enzymes is highly induced by HIF-1 in response to both H2S and HCN. In addition to their role in appropriately responding to H2S and HCN, we found that cysl-1 and cysl-2 are both essential mediators of innate immunity against fast paralytic killing by Pseudomonas. Furthermore, in agreement with these data, we showed that growing worms in the presence of H2S is sufficient to confer resistance to Pseudomonas fast paralytic killing. Our results suggest the hypoxia-independent hif-1 response in C. elegans evolved to respond to the naturally occurring small molecules H2S and HCN.

  • Received April 19, 2011.
  • Accepted July 28, 2011.

Available freely online through the author-supported open access option.

View Full Text