The scent of disease: volatile organic compounds of the human body related to disease and disorder

J Biochem. 2011 Sep;150(3):257-66. doi: 10.1093/jb/mvr090. Epub 2011 Jul 19.


Hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted from the human body, and the components of VOCs usually reflect the metabolic condition of an individual. Therefore, contracting an infectious or metabolic disease often results in a change in body odour. Recent progresses in analytical techniques allow rapid analyses of VOCs derived from breath, blood, skin and urine. Disease-specific VOCs can be used as diagnostic olfactory biomarkers of infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, genetic disorders and other kinds of diseases. Elucidation of pathophysiological mechanisms underlying production of disease-specific VOCs may provide novel insights into therapeutic approaches for treatments for various diseases. This review summarizes the current knowledge on chemical and clinical aspects of body-derived VOCs, and provides a brief outlook at the future of olfactory diagnosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Breath Tests
  • Clinical Chemistry Tests*
  • Communicable Diseases / diagnosis
  • Dogs
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Skin / chemistry
  • Sweat / chemistry
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / blood
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / urine


  • Biomarkers
  • Volatile Organic Compounds