Effect of age on the breath methylated alkane contour, a display of apparent new markers of oxidative stress

J Lab Clin Med. 2000 Sep;136(3):243-9. doi: 10.1067/mlc.2000.108943.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are toxic byproducts of mitochondrial energy production that inflict oxidative stress, a constant barrage of damage to DNA, proteins, lipids, and other biologically important molecules. Oxidative stress has been implicated as a pathologic mechanism in aging and in several diseases. We developed a display of apparent new markers of oxidative stress in human beings, the breath methylated alkane contour (BMAC). The BMAC is a three-dimensional display of C4 to C20 alkanes and monomethylated alkanes in breath, with x-axis = carbon chain length, z-axis = methylation site, and y-axis = alveolar gradient (relative abundance in breath minus relative abundance in room air). In 102 normal human subjects of 9 to 89 years of age, alveolar gradients of components of the BMAC increased significantly with age. The mean alveolar gradient of all components of the BMAC varied from negative in the youngest quartile (ages 9 to 31 years) to positive in the oldest quartile (ages 74 to 89 years)(P < 2.10(-9)). These findings were consistent with an increase in oxidative stress with advancing age, although an age-related decline in clearance by cytochrome p450 may have contributed. The BMAC provides a display of apparent new markers of oxidative stress with potential applications in aging research, clinical diagnosis, pharmacology, and toxicology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Alkanes / analysis*
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Breath Tests*
  • Child
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylation
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Alkanes
  • Biomarkers
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System