Background: It has been suggested that exhaled breath contains relevant information on health status. Objectives: We hypothesized that a novel mass spectrometry (MS) technique to analyze breath in real time could be useful to differentiate breathprints from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients and controls (smokers and nonsmokers). Methods: We studied 61 participants including 25 COPD patients [Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) stages I-IV], 25 nonsmoking controls and 11 smoking controls. We analyzed their breath by MS in real time. Raw mass spectra were then processed and statistically analyzed. Results: A panel of discriminating mass-spectral features was identified for COPD (all stages; n = 25) versus healthy nonsmokers (n = 25), COPD (all stages; n = 25) versus healthy smokers (n = 11) and mild COPD (GOLD stages I/II; n = 13) versus severe COPD (GOLD stages III/IV; n = 12). A blind classification (i.e. leave-one-out cross validation) resulted in 96% sensitivity and 72.7% specificity (COPD vs. smoking controls), 88% sensitivity and 92% specificity (COPD vs. nonsmoking controls) and 92.3% sensitivity and 83.3% specificity (GOLD I/II vs. GOLD III/IV). Acetone and indole were identified as two of the discriminating exhaled molecules. Conclusions: We conclude that real-time MS may be a useful technique to analyze and characterize the metabolome of exhaled breath. The acquisition of breathprints in a rapid manner may be valuable to support COPD diagnosis and to gain insight into the disease.

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