Naphthoquinones Oxidize H2S to Polysulfides and Thiosulfate, Implications for Therapeutic Applications

Kenneth R. Olson, Kasey J. Clear, Paul J. Derry, Yan Gao, Zhilin Ma, Nathaniel M. Cieplik, Alyssa Fiume, Dominic J. Gaziano, Stephen M. Kasko, Kathleen Narloch, Cecilia L. Velander, Ifeyinwa Nwebube, Collin J. Pallissery, Ella Pfaff, Brian P. Villa, Thomas A. Kent, Gang Wu, Karl D. Straub

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1,4-Napththoquinones (NQs) are clinically relevant therapeutics that affect cell function through production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and formation of adducts with regulatory protein thiols. Reactive sulfur species (RSS) are chemically and biologically similar to ROS and here we examine RSS production by NQ oxidation of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) using RSS-specific fluorophores, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, UV-Vis absorption spectrometry, oxygen-sensitive optodes, thiosulfate-specific nanoparticles, HPLC-monobromobimane derivatization, and ion chromatographic assays. We show that NQs, catalytically oxidize H2S to per- and polysulfides (H2Sn, n = 2–6), thiosulfate, sulfite and sulfate in reactions that consume oxygen and are accelerated by superoxide dismutase (SOD) and inhibited by catalase. The approximate efficacy of NQs (in decreasing order) is, 1,4-NQ ≈ juglone ≈ plumbagin > 2-methoxy-1,4-NQ ≈ menadione >> phylloquinone ≈ anthraquinone ≈ menaquinone ≈ lawsone. We propose that the most probable reactions are an initial two-electron oxidation of H2S to S0 and reduction of NQ to NQH2. S0 may react with H2S or elongate H2Sn in variety of reactions. Reoxidation of NQH2 likely involves a semiquinone radical (NQ·−) intermediate via several mechanisms involving oxygen and comproportionation to produce NQ and superoxide. Dismutation of the latter forms hydrogen peroxide which then further oxidizes RSS to sulfoxides. These findings provide the chemical background for novel sulfur-based approaches to naphthoquinone-directed therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13293
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • antioxidants
  • juglone
  • plumbagin
  • reactive oxygen species
  • reactive sulfur species
  • vitamin K

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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