Changes in lung epithelial cell volatile metabolite profile induced by pro-fibrotic stimulation with TGF-β1

Conal Hayton, Waqar Ahmed, Peter Cunningham, Karen Piper-Hanley, Laurence Pearmain, Nazia Chaudhuri, Colm Leonard, John Blaikley, Stephen J Fowler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have shown promise as potential biomarkers in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Measuring VOCs in the headspace of in vitro models of lung fibrosis may offer a method of determining the origin of those detected in exhaled breath. The aim of this study was to determine the VOCs associated with two lung cell lines (A549 and MRC-5 cells) and changes associated with stimulation of cells with the pro-fibrotic cytokine, transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1. A dynamic headspace sampling method was used to sample the headspace of A549 cells and MRC-5 cells. These were compared to media control samples and to each other to identify VOCs which discriminated between cell lines. Cells were then stimulated with the TGF-β1 and samples were compared between stimulated and unstimulated cells. Samples were analysed using thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and supervised analysis was performed using sparse partial least squares-discriminant analysis (sPLS-DA). Supervised analysis revealed differential VOC profiles unique to each of the cell lines and from the media control samples. Significant changes in VOC profiles were induced by stimulation of cell lines with TGF-β1. In particular, several terpenoids (isopinocarveol, sativene and 3-carene) were increased in stimulated cells compared to unstimulated cells. VOC profiles differ between lung cell lines and alter in response to pro-fibrotic stimulation. Increased abundance of terpenoids in the headspace of stimulated cells may reflect TGF-β1 cell signalling activity and metabolic reprogramming. This may offer a potential biomarker target in exhaled breath in IPF.

Original languageEnglish
Article number046012
JournalJournal of Breath Research
Issue number4
Early online date7 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023


  • cell culture models
  • headspace
  • idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • volatile organic compounds


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