Volatile organic compounds generated by cultures of bacteria and viruses associated with respiratory infections

Biomed Chromatogr. 2015 Dec;29(12):1783-90. doi: 10.1002/bmc.3494. Epub 2015 May 27.


Respiratory infections (RI) can be viral or bacterial in origin. In either case, the invasion of the pathogen results in production and release of various volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The present study examines the VOCs released from cultures of five viruses (influenza A, influenza B, adenovirus, respiratory syncitial virus and parainfluenza 1 virus), three bacteria (Moraxella catarrhalis, Haemophilus influenzae and Legionella pneumophila) and Mycoplasma pneumoniae isolated colonies. Our results demonstrate the involvement of inflammation-induced VOCs. Two significant VOCs were identified as associated with infectious bacterial activity, heptane and methylcyclohexane. These two VOCs have been linked in previous studies to oxidative stress effects. In order to distinguish between bacterial and viral positive cultures, we performed principal component analysis including peak identity (retention time) and VOC concentration (i.e. area under the peak) revealing 1-hexanol and 1-heptadecene to be good predictors.

Keywords: biomarker; gas chromatography; mass spectroscopy; microbial culture; volatile organic compound (VOC).

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cyclohexanes / analysis
  • Cyclohexanes / metabolism
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Heptanes / analysis
  • Heptanes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / microbiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / virology
  • Virus Diseases / virology
  • Viruses / metabolism*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Cyclohexanes
  • Heptanes
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
  • methylcyclohexane