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Biotechnology - Critical Care and Emergency Medicine - Nephrology - Respiratory Medicine

Volatile Organic Compounds in Uremia
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Author: Nikolaos Pagonas et al.

by Nikolaos Pagonas, Wolfgang Vautz, Luzia Seifert, Rafael Slodzinski, Joachim Jankowski, Walter Zidek, Timm H. Westhoff


Although “uremic fetor” has long been felt to be diagnostic of renal failure, the compounds exhaled in uremia remain largely unknown so far. The present work investigates whether breath analysis by ion mobility spectrometry can be used for the identification of volatile organic compounds retained in uremia.


Breath analysis was performed in 28 adults with an eGFR =60 ml/min per 1.73 m2, 26 adults with chronic renal failure corresponding to an eGFR of 10–59 ml/min per 1.73 m2, and 28 adults with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) before and after a hemodialysis session. Breath analysis was performed by ion mobility spectrometryafter gas-chromatographic preseparation. Identification of the compounds of interest was performed by thermal desorption gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.


Breath analyses revealed significant differences in the spectra of patients with and without renal failure. Thirteen compounds were chosen for further evaluation. Some compounds including hydroxyacetone, 3-hydroxy-2-butanone and ammonia accumulated with decreasing renal function and were eliminated by dialysis. The concentrations of these compounds allowed a significant differentiation between healthy, chronic renal failure with an eGFR of 10–59 ml/min, and ESRD (p<0.05 each). Other compounds including 4-heptanal, 4-heptanone, and 2-heptanone preferentially or exclusively occurred in patients undergoing hemodialysis.


Impairment of renal function induces a characteristic fingerprint of volatile compounds in the breath. The technique of ion mobility spectrometry can be used for the identification of lipophilic uremic retention molecules.