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  • Author: Liam M. Heaney x
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The workings of the gut microbiome have gained increasing interest in recent years through the mounting evidence that the microbiota plays an influential role in human health and disease. A principal focus of this research seeks to further understand the production of metabolic by-products produced by bacteria resident in the gut, and the subsequent interaction of these metabolites on host physiology and pathophysiology of disease. Gut bacterial metabolites of interest are predominately formed via metabolic breakdown of dietary compounds including choline and ʟ-carnitine (trimethylamine N-oxide), amino acids (phenol- and indole-containing uremic toxins) and non-digestible dietary fibers (short-chain fatty acids). Investigations have been accelerated through the application of mass spectrometry (MS)-based assays to quantitatively assess the concentration of these metabolites in laboratory- and animal-based experiments, as well as for direct circulating measurements in clinical research populations. This review seeks to explore the impact of these metabolites on disease, as well as to introduce the application of MS for those less accustomed to its use as a clinical tool, highlighting pertinent research related to its use for measurements of gut bacteria-mediated metabolites to further understand their associations with disease.


A sniffer (detecting) dog is conventionally defined as an animal trained to use its olfactory perceptions for detecting a vast array of substances, mostly volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including those exceptionally or exclusively generated in humans bearing specific pathologies. Such an extraordinary sniffing performance translates into the capability of detecting compounds close to the femtomolar level, with performance comparable to that of current mass spectrometry-based laboratory applications. Not only can dogs accurately detect “abnormal volatilomes” reflecting something wrong happening to their owners, but they can also perceive visual, vocal and behavioral signals, which altogether would contribute to raise their alertness. Although it seems reasonable to conclude that sniffer dogs could never be considered absolutely “diagnostic” for a given disorder, several lines of evidence attest that they may serve as efficient screening aids for many pathological conditions affecting their human companions. Favorable results have been obtained in trials on cancers, diabetes, seizures, narcolepsy and migraine, whilst interesting evidence is also emerging on the capability of early and accurately identifying patients with infectious diseases. This would lead the way to proposing an “olfactory fingerprint” loop, where evidence that dogs can identify the presence of human pathologies provides implicit proof of the existence of disease-specific volatilomes, which can be studied for developing laboratory techniques. Contextually, the evidence that specific pathologies are associated with abnormal VOC generation may serve as reliable basis for training dogs to detect these compounds, even (or especially) in patients at an asymptomatic phase.