Headspace sorptive extraction-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry method to measure volatile emissions from human airway cell cultures

J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2018 Jul 15;1090:36-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2018.05.009. Epub 2018 May 12.


The human respiratory tract releases volatile metabolites into exhaled breath that can be utilized for noninvasive health diagnostics. To understand the origin of this metabolic process, our group has previously analyzed the headspace above human epithelial cell cultures using solid phase microextraction-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (SPME-GC-MS). In the present work, we improve our model by employing sorbent-covered magnetic stir bars for headspace sorptive extraction (HSSE). Sorbent-coated stir bar analyte recovery increased by 52 times and captured 97 more compounds than SPME. Our data show that HSSE is preferred over liquid extraction via stir bar sorptive extraction (SBSE), which failed to distinguish volatiles unique to the cell samples compared against media controls. Two different cellular media were also compared, and we found that Opti-MEM® is preferred for volatile analysis. We optimized HSSE analytical parameters such as extraction time (24 h), desorption temperature (300 °C) and desorption time (7 min). Finally, we developed an internal standard for cell culture VOC studies by introducing 842 ng of deuterated decane per 5 mL of cell medium to account for error from extraction, desorption, chromatography and detection. This improved model will serve as a platform for future metabolic cell culture studies to examine changes in epithelial VOCs caused by perturbations such as viral or bacterial infections, opening opportunities for improved, noninvasive pulmonary diagnostics.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Mucosa / cytology*
  • Solid Phase Microextraction
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / isolation & purification*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / metabolism


  • Volatile Organic Compounds