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Arch Bronconeumol. 2013 Nov;49(11):457-61. doi: 10.1016/j.arbres.2013.04.004. Epub 2013 Jun 19.

Volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath in a healthy population: effect of tobacco smoking.

[Article in English, Spanish]

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Servicio de Neumología, Hospital Central de la Defensa-Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, España. Electronic address:



Tobacco smoke is a source of free radicals and reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, which are the main causes of oxidative stress. The analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in exhaled breath is an indirect method of measuring the level of oxidative stress that occurs in the airways caused by tobacco consumption. The aim of this study was to determine whether smoking influences the production of VOC, in a clinically healthy population.


Exhaled breath from 89 healthy volunteers, divided into three groups (non-smokers, ex-smokers and smokers) was analysed. Samples were collected using Bio-VOC® devices and transferred to universal desorption tubes. Chemical compounds were analysed by thermal desorption, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. We analysed hexanal, heptanal, octanal, nonanal, nonanoic acid and propanoic acid, all identified by retention time and mass spectra referenced in the NIST 08 mass spectral library; confirmation was carried out using reference standards of the pure chemical compound.


These VOC were found in very low concentrations. Only nonanal showed significant quantitative and qualitative statistical differences among the study groups. Nonanal concentration is dependent on smoking, but is independent of the amount of tobacco consumed, age and gender.


Nonanal in exhaled breath is associated with tobacco consumption, current or previous. Nonanal is a sub-product of the destruction of the cell membrane, and its finding may be indicative of cell damage in smokers. This result appears in many farmers who smoke.


Compuestos orgánicos volátiles; Estrés oxidativo; Oxidative stress; Tabaquismo; Tobacco smoking; Volatile organic compounds

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