European Respiratory Society


Particles in exhaled air (PEx) may reflect the composition of respiratory tract lining fluid (RTLF); thus, there is a need to assess their potential as sources of biomarkers for respiratory diseases. In the present study, we compared PEx from patients with asthma and controls using time-of-flight–secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) and multivariate analysis.

Particles were collected using an instrument developed in-house. 15 nonsmoking subjects with physician-diagnosed asthma and 11 nonsmoking healthy controls performed 10 consecutive forced exhalations into the instrument. Particle concentrations were recorded and samples of particles collected on silicon plates were analysed by TOF-SIMS.

Subjects with asthma exhaled significantly lower numbers of particles than controls (p=0.03) and the ratio of unsaturated to saturated phospholipids was significantly lower in samples from subjects with asthma (0.25 versus 0.35; p=0.036). Orthogonal partial least squares-discriminant analysis models showed good separation between both positive and negative spectra. Molecular ions from phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylglycerol, and protein fragments were found to discriminate the groups.

We conclude that analysis of PEx is a promising method to examine the composition of RTLF. In the present explorative study, we could discriminate between subjects with asthma and healthy controls based on TOF-SIMS spectra from PEx.


  • Received December 17, 2010.
  • Accepted June 16, 2011.
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