Interpretation of non-invasive breath tests using (13)C-labeled substrates--a preliminary report with (13)C-methacetin

Eur J Med Res. 2009;14(12):547-50. doi: 10.1186/2047-783x-14-12-547.


Non-invasive breath tests can serve as valuable diagnostic tools in medicine as they can determine particular enzymatic and metabolic functions in vivo. However, methodological pitfalls have limited the actual clinical application of those tests till today. A major challenge of non-invasive breath tests has remained the provision of individually reliable test results. To overcome these limitations, a better understanding of breath kinetics during non-invasive breaths tests is essential. This analysis compares the breath recovery of a (13)C-methacetin breath test with the actual serum kinetics of the substrate. It is shown, that breath and serum kinetics of the same test are significantly different over a period of 60 minutes. The recovery of the tracer (13)CO(2) in breath seems to be significantly delayed due to intermediate storage in the bicarbonate pool. This has to be taken into account for the application of non-invasive breath test protocols. Otherwise, breath tests might display bicarbonate kinetics despite the metabolic capacity of the particular target enzyme.

MeSH terms

  • Acetamides / blood
  • Acetamides / pharmacokinetics*
  • Adult
  • Breath Tests*
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Carbon Radioisotopes / blood
  • Carbon Radioisotopes / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Acetamides
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • methacetin
  • Carbon Dioxide