Volatilomes of Bacterial Infections in Humans

Front Neurosci. 2020 Mar 25;14:257. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00257. eCollection 2020.


Sense of smell in humans has the capacity to detect certain volatiles from bacterial infections. Our olfactory senses were used in ancient medicine to diagnose diseases in patients. As humans are considered holobionts, each person's unique odor consists of volatile organic compounds (VOCs, volatilome) produced not only by the humans themselves but also by their beneficial and pathogenic micro-habitants. In the past decade it has been well documented that microorganisms (fungi and bacteria) are able to emit a broad range of olfactory active VOCs [summarized in the mVOC database (http://bioinformatics.charite.de/mvoc/)]. During microbial infection, the equilibrium between the human and its microbiome is altered, followed by a change in the volatilome. For several decades, physicians have been trying to utilize these changes in smell composition to develop fast and efficient diagnostic tools, particularly because volatiles detection is non-invasive and non-destructive, which would be a breakthrough in many therapies. Within this review, we discuss bacterial infections including gastrointestinal, respiratory or lung, and blood infections, focusing on the pathogens and their known corresponding volatile biomarkers. Furthermore, we cover the potential role of the human microbiota and their volatilome in certain diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases. We also report on discrete mVOCs that affect humans.

Keywords: MVOC; human microbiome; microbial volatiles; volatile organic compounds; volatilome.

Publication types

  • Review