In the present study, we examined PM2.5 continental rural background aerosols, which were collected during a summer field campaign at K-puszta, Hungary (4 June–10 July 2003), a mixed coniferous/deciduous forest site characterized by intense solar radiation during summer. Emphasis was placed on polar oxygenated organic compounds that provide information on aerosol sources and source processes. The major components detected at significant atmospheric concentrations were: (a) photo-oxidation products of isoprene including the 2-methyltetrols (2- methylthreitol and 2-methylerythritol) and 2-methylglyceric acid, (b) levoglucosan, a marker for biomass burning, (c) malic acid, an intermediate in the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids, and (d) the sugar alcohols, arabitol and mannitol, markers for fungal spores. Diel patterns with highest concentrations during day-time were observed for the 2- methyltetrols, which can be regarded as supporting evidence for their fast photochemical formation from locally emitted isoprene. In addition, a diel pattern with highest concentrations during day-time was observed for the fungal markers, suggesting that the release of fungal fragments that are associated with the PM2.5 aerosol is enhanced during that time. Furthermore, a diel pattern was also found for levoglucosan with the highest concentrations at night when wood burning may take place in the settlements around the sampling site. In contrast, malic acid did not show day/night differences but was found to follow quite closely the particulate and organic carbon mass. This is interpreted as an indication that malic acid is formed in photochemical reactions which have a much longer overall time-scale than that of isoprene photo-oxidation, and the sources of its precursors are manifold, including both anthropogenic and natural emissions. On the basis of the high concentrations found for the isoprene oxidation products during day-time, it can be concluded that rapid photo-oxidation of isoprene is an important atmospheric chemistry process that contributes to secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation at K-puszta during summer.