The theoretical use of mass spectrometric profiling of low-molecular-weight volatile compounds, as one possible method to non-invasively and rapidly diagnose a variety of diseases, such as cancer, infection, and metabolic disorders has greatly raised the profile of this technique over the last ten years. Despite a number of promising results, this technique has not been introduced into common clinical practice yet. The use of mass spectrometric profiling of exhaled air is particularly hampered by various technical problems and basic methodological issues which have only been partially overcome. However, breath analysis aside, recently published studies reveal completely new ideas and concepts on how to establish fast and reliable diagnosis by using this valuable tool. These studies focussed on the headspace screening of various bodily fluids and sample fluids obtained during diagnostic procedures, as well as microbial cell cultures and demonstrated the vast diagnostic potential of this technique in a wide variety of settings, predominantly in vitro. It is the aim of the present review to discuss the most commonly detected low-molecular-weight volatile compounds and to summarize the current potential applications, latest developments and future perspectives of this promising diagnostic approach.
Keywords: Low-molecular-weight volatile compounds, Volatile compounds, Volatile organic compounds, VOC, Mass spectrometry, Mass spectrometric profiling
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