Inflammatory bowel disease and patterns of volatile organic compounds in the exhaled breath of children: A case-control study using Ion Molecule Reaction-Mass Spectrometry

Monasta L1, Pierobon C1, Princivalle A2, Martelossi S1, Marcuzzi A1, Pasini F2, Perbellini L2. PLoS One. 2017 Aug 31;12(8):e0184118. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184118. eCollection 2017.
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1 Institute for Maternal and Child Health - IRCCS "Burlo Garofolo", Trieste, Italy. 2 Occupational Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Verona, Verona, Italy.


Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) profoundly affect quality of life and have been gradually increasing in incidence, prevalence and severity in many areas of the world, and in children in particular. Patients with suspected IBD require careful history and clinical examination, while definitive diagnosis relies on endoscopic and histological findings. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether the alveolar air of pediatric patients with IBD presents a specific volatile organic compounds' (VOCs) pattern when compared to controls. Patients 10-17 years of age, were divided into four groups: Crohn's disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC), controls with gastrointestinal symptomatology, and surgical controls with no evidence of gastrointestinal problems. Alveolar breath was analyzed by ion molecule reaction mass spectrometry. Four models were built starting from 81 molecules plus the age of subjects as independent variables, adopting a penalizing LASSO logistic regression approach: 1) IBDs vs. controls, finally based on 18 VOCs plus age (sensitivity = 95%, specificity = 69%, AUC = 0.925); 2) CD vs. UC, finally based on 13 VOCs plus age (sensitivity = 94%, specificity = 76%, AUC = 0.934); 3) IBDs vs. gastroenterological controls, finally based on 15 VOCs plus age (sensitivity = 94%, specificity = 65%, AUC = 0.918); 4) IBDs vs. controls, built starting from the 21 directly or indirectly calibrated molecules only, and finally based on 12 VOCs plus age (sensitivity = 94%, specificity = 71%, AUC = 0.888). The molecules identified by the models were carefully studied in relation to the concerned outcomes. This study, with the creation of models based on VOCs profiles, precise instrumentation and advanced statistical methods, can contribute to the development of new non-invasive, fast and relatively inexpensive diagnostic tools, with high sensitivity and specificity. It also represents a crucial step towards gaining further insights on the etiology of IBD through the analysis of specific molecules which are the expression of the particular metabolism that characterizes these patients.

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