High throughput volatile fatty acid skin metabolite profiling by thermal desorption secondary electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry

The non-invasive nature of volatile organic compound (VOC) sampling from skin makes this a priority in the development of new screening and diagnostic assays. Evaluation of recent literature highlights the tension between the analytical utility of ambient ionisation approaches for skin profiling and the practicality of undertaking larger campaigns (higher statistical power), or undertaking research in remote locations. This study describes how VOC may be sampled from skin and recovered from a polydimethylsilicone sampling coupon and analysed by thermal desorption (TD) interfaced to secondary electrospray ionisation (SESI) time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MS) for the high throughput screening of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) from human skin. Analysis times were reduced by 79% compared to gas chromatography-mass spectrometry methods (GC-MS) and limits of detection in the range 300 to 900 pg cm−2 for VFA skin concentrations were obtained. Using body odour as a surrogate model for clinical testing 10 Filipino participants, 5 high and 5 low odour, were sampled in Manilla and the samples returned to the UK and screened by TD-SESI-MS and TD-GC-MS for malodour precursors with greater than >95% agreement between the two analytical techniques. Eight additional VFAs were also identified by both techniques with chains 4 to 15 carbons long being observed. TD-SESI-MS appears to have significant potential for the high throughput targeted screening of volatile biomarkers in human skin.