Identification of volatile organic compounds in human cerumen

J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2014 Mar 15;953-954:48-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2014.01.043. Epub 2014 Feb 5.


We report here the initial examination of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emanating from human earwax (cerumen). Recent studies link a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) binding cassette, sub-family C, member 11 gene (ABCC11) to the production of different types of axillary odorants and cerumen. ABCC11 encodes an ATP-driven efflux pump protein that plays an important function in ceruminous apocrine glands of the auditory canal and the secretion of axillary odor precursors. The type of cerumen and underarm odor produced by East Asians differ markedly from that produced by non-Asians. In this initial report we find that both groups emit many of the same VOCs but differ significantly in the amounts produced. The principal odorants are volatile organic C2-to-C6 acids. The physical appearance of cerumen from the two groups also matches previously reported ethnic differences, viz., cerumen from East Asians appears dry and white while that from non-Asians is typically wet and yellowish-brown.

Keywords: Axillary odor; Cerumen; Earwax; GC/MS; SPME; Volatile organic compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asians
  • Cerumen / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Solid Phase Microextraction
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / chemistry
  • Whites


  • Volatile Organic Compounds