Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 397, Issue 6, pp 2315–2324 | Cite as

Discrimination of cancerous and non-cancerous cell lines by headspace-analysis with PTR-MS

  • C. Brunner
  • W. Szymczak
  • V. Höllriegl
  • S. Mörtl
  • H. Oelmez
  • A. Bergner
  • R. M. Huber
  • C. Hoeschen
  • U. Oeh
Original Paper


Proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) has been used to analyze the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by in-vitro cultured human cells. For this purpose, two pairs of cancerous and non-cancerous human cell lines were selected:1. lung epithelium cells A-549 and retinal pigment epithelium cells hTERT-RPE1, cultured in different growth media; and 2. squamous lung carcinoma cells EPLC and immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells BEAS2B, cultured in identical growth medium. The VOCs in the headspace of the cell cultures were sampled: 1. online by drawing off the gas directly from the culture flask; and 2. by accumulation of the VOCs in PTFE bags connected to the flask for at least 12 h. The pure media were analyzed in the same way as the corresponding cells in order to provide a reference. Direct comparison of headspace VOCs from flasks with cells plus medium and from flasks with pure medium enabled the characterization of cell-line-specific production or consumption of VOCs. Among all identified VOCs in this respect, the most outstanding compound was m/z = 45 (acetaldehyde) revealing significant consumption by the cancerous cell lines but not by the non-cancerous cells. By applying multivariate statistical analysis using 42 selected marker VOCs, it was possible to clearly separate the cancerous and non-cancerous cell lines from each other.


The multivariate statistical analysis allowed to clearly separate the different cell lines from each other using 42 selected marker VOCs.


Proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry Volatile organic compounds In vitro Human cells 



We would like to thank Klaudia Winkler and Romy Müller from the Institute of Radiation Biology of the Helmholtz Zentrum München for providing the cells, the laboratory, and the know-how for handling of in-vitro cultured cells.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Brunner
    • 1
    • 2
  • W. Szymczak
    • 2
  • V. Höllriegl
    • 2
  • S. Mörtl
    • 2
  • H. Oelmez
    • 3
  • A. Bergner
    • 3
  • R. M. Huber
    • 3
  • C. Hoeschen
    • 2
  • U. Oeh
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of RadiologyHospital rechts der Isar of the Technical University of MunichMunichGermany
  2. 2.Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental HealthNeuherbergGermany
  3. 3.Division of Respiratory Medicine, Medizinische Klink-InnenstadtLudwig-Maximilians-UniversityMunichGermany

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