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Skeletal formula of 2-mercaptoethanol
Spacefill model of 2-mercaptoethanol
IUPAC name
Other names


60-24-2 YesY
3DMet B00201
ChEBI CHEBI:41218 YesY
ChEMBL ChEMBL254951 YesY
ChemSpider 1512 YesY
DrugBank DB03345 YesY
EC Number 200-464-6
Jmol interactive 3D Image
KEGG C00928 N
MeSH Mercaptoethanol
PubChem 1567
RTECS number KL5600000
UN number 2966
Molar mass 78.13 g·mol−1
Density 1.114 g/cm3
Melting point −100 °C (−148 °F; 173 K)
Boiling point 157 °C; 314 °F; 430 K
log P -0.23
Vapor pressure 100 Pa (at 20 °C)
Acidity (pKa) 9.643
Basicity (pKb) 4.354
Safety data sheet msds.chem.ox.ac.uk
GHS pictograms The corrosion pictogram in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) The skull-and-crossbones pictogram in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) The environment pictogram in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)
GHS signal word DANGER
H301, H310, H315, H317, H318, H330, H410
P260, P273, P280, P284, P301+310, P302+350
Toxic T Dangerous for the Environment (Nature) N
R-phrases R20/22, R24, R34, R51/53
S-phrases S26, S36/37/39, S45, S61
Flash point 68 °C (154 °F; 341 K)
Explosive limits 18%
Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):
244 mg/Kg (oral, rat)[1]
150 mg/kg (skin, rabbit)[1]
Related compounds
Related compounds
Ethylene glycol


Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
N verify (what is YesYN ?)
Infobox references

2-Mercaptoethanol (also β-mercaptoethanol, BME, 2BME, 2-ME or β-met) is the chemical compound with the formula HOCH2CH2SH. ME or βME, as it is commonly abbreviated, is used to reduce disulfide bonds and can act as a biological antioxidant by scavenging hydroxyl radicals (amongst others). It is widely used because the hydroxyl group confers solubility in water and lowers the volatility. Due to its diminished vapor pressure, its odor, while unpleasant, is less objectionable than related thiols.


2-Mercaptoethanol may be prepared by the action of hydrogen sulfide on ethylene oxide:[2]

Reaction scheme for the preparation of 2-mercaptoethanol from ethylene oxide and hydrogen sulfide


2-Mercaptoethanol reacts with aldehydes and ketones to give the corresponding oxathiolanes. This makes 2-mercaptoethanol useful as a protecting group.[3]

Reaction scheme for the formation of oxathiolanes by reaction of 2-mercaptoethanol with aldehydes or ketones


Reducing proteins[edit]

Some proteins can be denatured by 2-mercaptoethanol, which cleaves the disulfide bonds that may form between thiol groups of cysteine residues. In the case of excess 2-mercaptoethanol, the following equilibrium is shifted to the right:

RS–SR + 2 HOCH2CH2SH is in equilibrium with HOCH2CH2S–SCH2CH2OH + 2 RSH
Reaction scheme for the cleavage of disulfide bonds by 2-mercaptoethanol

By breaking the S-S bonds, both the tertiary structure and the quaternary structure of some proteins can be disrupted.[4] Because of its ability to disrupt the structure of proteins, it was used in the analysis of proteins, for instance, to ensure that a protein solution contains monomeric protein molecules, instead of disulfide linked dimers or higher order oligomers. However, since 2-mercaptoethanol forms adducts with free cysteines and is somewhat more toxic, dithiothreitol (DTT) is generally more used especially in SDS-PAGE. DTT is also a more powerful reducing agent with a redox potential (at pH 7) of −0.33 V, compared to −0.26 V for 2-mercaptoethanol.[5]

2-Mercaptoethanol is often used interchangeably with dithiothreitol (DTT) or the odorless tris(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine (TCEP) in biological applications.

Although 2-mercaptoethanol has a higher volatility than DTT, it is more stable: 2-mercaptoethanol's half-life is more than 100 hours at pH 6.5 and 4 hours at pH 8.5; DTT's half-life is 40 hours at pH 6.5 and 1.5 hours at pH 8.5.[6][7]

Preventing protein oxidation[edit]

2-Mercaptoethanol and related reducing agents (e.g., DTT) are often included in enzymatic reactions to inhibit the oxidation of free sulfhydryl residues, and hence maintain protein activity. It is used in several enzyme assays as a standard buffer.[8]

Denaturing ribonucleases[edit]

2-Mercaptoethanol is used in some RNA isolation procedures to eliminate ribonuclease released during cell lysis. Numerous disulfide bonds make ribonucleases very stable enzymes, so 2-mercaptoethanol is used to reduce these disulfide bonds and irreversibly denature the proteins. This prevents them from digesting the RNA during its extraction procedure.[9]


2-Mercaptoethanol is considered toxic, causing irritation to the nasal passageways and respiratory tract upon inhalation, irritation to the skin, vomiting and stomach pain through ingestion, and potentially death if severe exposure occurs. [10]


  1. ^ a b 2-Mercaptoethanol
  2. ^ Knight, J. J. (2004) "2-Mercaptoethanol" in Encyclopedia of Reagents for Organic Synthesis (Ed: L. Paquette), J. Wiley & Sons, New York. doi:10.1002/047084289.
  3. ^ "1,3-Dithiolanes, 1,3-Dithianes". Organic Chemistry Portal. Archived from the original on 17 May 2008. Retrieved 27 May 2008. 
  4. ^ "2-Mercaptoethanol". Chemicalland21.com. Archived from the original on 5 October 2006. Retrieved 8 October 2006. 
  5. ^ Aitken CE; Marshall RA, Puglisi JD (2008). "An oxygen scavenging system for improvement of dye stability in single-molecule fluorescence experiments". Biophys J 94 (5): 1826–35. doi:10.1529/biophysj.107.117689. PMC 2242739. PMID 17921203. 
  6. ^ Yeh, J. I. (2009) "Additives and microcalorimetric approaches for optimization of crystallization" in Protein Crystallization, 2nd Edition (Ed: T. Bergfors), International University Line, La Jolla, CA. ISBN 978-0-9720774-4-6.
  7. ^ Stevens R.; Stevens L.; Price N.C. (1983). "The Stabilities of Various Thiol Compounds used in Protein Purifications". Biochemical Education 11 (2): 70. doi:10.1016/0307-4412(83)90048-1. 
  8. ^ Verduyn, C; Van Kleef, R; Frank, J; Schreuder, H; Van Dijken, J. P.; Scheffers, W. A. (1985). "Properties of the NAD(P)H-dependent xylose reductase from the xylose-fermenting yeast Pichia stipitis". The Biochemical journal 226 (3): 669–77. PMC 1144764. PMID 3921014. 
  9. ^ Nelson, David R.; Lehninger, Albert L; Cox, Michael (2005). Lehninger principles of biochemistry. New York: W.H. Freeman. p. 148. ISBN 0-7167-4339-6. 
  10. ^ "Material Safety Data Sheet". JT Baker. Retrieved 31 July 2011.