Microbial volatile organic compounds

Crit Rev Toxicol. 2009;39(2):139-93. doi: 10.1080/10408440802291497.


Microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) are a variety of compounds formed in the metabolism of fungi and bacteria. Of more than 200 compounds identified as MVOCs in laboratory experiments, none can be regarded as exclusively of microbial origin or as specific for certain microbial species. Thus, the recognition of microbially contaminated areas by MVOC measurements is not successful with current methods. In this review, the basic physical and chemical properties of 96 typical MVOCs have been summarised. Of these, toxicological and exposure data were gathered for the 15 MVOCs most often analysed and reported in buildings with moisture and microbial damage. The most obvious health effect of MVOC exposure is eye and upper-airway irritation. However, in human experimental exposure studies, symptoms of irritation have appeared at MVOC concentrations several orders of magnitude higher than those measured indoors (single MVOC levels in indoor environments have ranged from a few ng/m(3) up to 1 mg/m(3)). This is also supported by dose-dependent sensory-irritation response, as determined by the American Society for Testing and Materials mouse bioassay. On the other hand, the toxicological database is poor even for the 15 examined MVOCs. There may be more potent compounds and other endpoints not yet evaluated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology*
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Biological Assay
  • Databases as Topic
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Fungi / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Mice


  • Air Pollutants