An investigation of human apocrine gland secretion for axillary odor precursors

Xiao Nong Zeng, James J. Leyden, Joseph G. Brand, Andrew I. Spielman, Kenneth J. McGinley, George Preti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recently completed studies from our laboratories have demonstrated that the characteristic human male axillary odors consist of C6 to C11 normal, branched, and unsaturated aliphatic acids, with (E)-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid being the most abundant. To investigate the mechanism by which the odor is formed, it is necessary to determine the nature of the odorless precursor(s) found in the apocrine secretion which is converted by the cutaneous microorganisms to the characteristic axillary odor. Pooled apocrine secretion was obtained from several male volunteers by intracutaneous injection of epinephrine. Partitioning this secretion into aqueous and organic soluble fractions was followed by hydrolysis of each fraction with NaOH or incubation with axillary microorganisms (cutaneous lipophilic corynebacterium). Analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) revealed the presence of (E)- and (Z)-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid in the aqueous phase hydrolysate and aqueous phase incubated with bacteria; however, only a trace amount was seen in the resultant organic phase mixtures. These results suggest that a water-soluble precursor(s) is converted by the axillary flora to the characteristic axillary odors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1039-1055
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1992


  • (E)-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid
  • Human axillary odors
  • androstenol
  • axillary odor precursors
  • human apocrine gland secretion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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