Study objectives: The aim of this study was to characterize the elemental composition of exhaled breath condensate (EBC) in order to identify new biomarkers of exposure and susceptibility in COPD patients. Serum pneumoproteins were used as lung-specific biomarkers of effect.
Design: EBC was obtained from 50 healthy subjects, 30 healthy smokers, 30 asthmatics, and 50 patients with stable COPD, and was collected by cooling exhaled air. Trace elements and toxic metals in the samples were measured by means of inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry and electrothermal atomic absorption spectroscopy. The serum pneumoproteins were immunoassayed.
Results: The EBC of COPD subjects had higher levels of such toxic elements as lead, cadmium, and aluminum, and lower levels of iron and copper, than that of the nonsmoking control subjects. There were no between-group differences in surfactant protein (SP)-A and SP-B levels. Clara-cell protein and SP-D levels were negatively and positively influenced, respectively, by tobacco smoke.
Conclusions: Our results show that toxic metals and transition elements are detectable in the EBC of studied subjects. We propose new biomarkers of exposure as a means of assessing the target tissue dose of carcinogenic and pneumotoxic substances from tobacco smoke or polluted workplaces, and the use of the transition elements involved in redox systems of oxidative stress as disease biomarkers associated with effect or susceptibility. Together with biomarkers of effect, such as serum pneumoproteins, the elemental composition of EBC may be clinically useful in distinguishing similar diseases.