Fractionating ambient humic-like substances (HULIS) for their reactive oxygen species activity - Assessing the importance of quinones and atmospheric aging

Vishal Verma, Ying Wang, Rawan El-Afifi, Ting Fang, Janessa Rowland, Armistead G. Russell, Rodney J. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we present a technique to identify the redox-active components of fine organic aerosols by fractionating humic-like substances (HULIS). We applied this technique to a dithiothreitol (DTT) assay - a measure of the capability of PM to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), and assessed the contribution of quinones to the DTT activity of ambient water-soluble PM. Filter samples from the Southeastern Center for Air Pollution & Epidemiology (SCAPE) were extracted in water and then passed-through a C-18 column to isolate the HULIS fraction by retention on the column. The HULIS was then eluted with a sequence of solvents of increasing polarity, i.e., hexane, dichloromethane (DCM) and then methanol. Each of these eluted fractions was analyzed for DTT activity. The methanol fraction was found to possess most of the DTT activity (>70%), while the hexane fraction had the least activity (<5%), suggesting that the ROS-active compounds of ambient water-soluble PM2.5 HULIS are mostly polar in nature. A number of quinones thought to contribute to ambient PM DTT activity were also tested. 1,4 Naphthoquinone (1,4 NQ), 1,2 Naphthoquinone (1,2 NQ), 9,10 Phenanthrenequinone (PQ), and 5-hydroxy-1,4 NQ were analyzed by the same protocol. The hexane fraction of two quinones (PQ, and 1,4 NQ) was the most-DTT active, while methanol was the least, confirming that PQ, 1,4 NQ, and 1,2 NQ (which could not be recovered from the column) do not contribute significantly to the water-soluble DTT activity of ambient PM2.5. However, an oxygenated derivative of 1,4 NQ, (5-hydroxy-1,4 NQ), which is also intrinsically more DTT-active than 1,4 NQ, was mostly (>60%) eluted in methanol. The results demonstrate the importance of atmospheric aging (oxidation) of organic aerosols in enhancing the ROS activity of ambient PM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-359
Number of pages9
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheric aging
  • Dithiothreitol (DTT assay)
  • Humic-like substances (HULIS)
  • Quinones
  • Reactive oxygen species (ROS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science


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