Hydrogen cyanide as a biomarker for Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the breath of children with cystic fibrosis

Pediatr Pulmonol. 2009 Feb;44(2):142-7. doi: 10.1002/ppul.20963.


Hypothesis: Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is emitted by Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) in vitro. We hypothesized that exhaled HCN could be measured using Selected Ion Flow Tube Mass Spectrometry (SIFT-MS) and that concentrations would be higher in children with cystic fibrosis (CF) and PA infection than in children with asthma.

Methods: Children aged 7-17 years with CF (n = 16) or asthma (n = 21) attending outpatient clinics provided breath samples between July and December 2007. HCN was measured using the SIFT-MS Profile 3 instrument. FeNO was measured with a Sievers NOA 280i analyzer. Baseline inter-group differences between HCN and FeNO concentrations were compared using the Mann-Whitney U test. Children were invited to re-attend fortnightly. Breath samples, spirometry, growth and clinical status were measured at each visit.

Results: There were significant baseline differences in exhaled HCN and FeNO concentrations between the two groups. Children with CF had higher median HCN concentrations than those with asthma: 13.5 parts per billion (ppb) (IQR 8.1-16.5) versus 2.0 ppb (IQR 0.0-4.8) (P < 0.001). Children with CF had lower median FeNO levels compared to children with asthma: 13.4 ppb (IQR 8.9-17.6) versus 57.9 ppb (IQR 34.0-85.7) (P < 0.001). Intra-subject variability was high and significant changes in HCN concentrations were not observed related to changes in lung function or clinical status.

Conclusion: This study provides proof of principle that HCN is detectable in the breath of children with CF and is elevated compared to children with asthma. Further studies are required to capture data from acutely unwell children and more accurately delineate responses to treatment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / microbiology*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Breath Tests
  • Child
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Cyanide / analysis*
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Pseudomonas Infections / diagnosis*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers
  • Hydrogen Cyanide