Trimethylamine: metabolic, pharmacokinetic and safety aspects

Curr Drug Metab. 2005 Jun;6(3):227-40. doi: 10.2174/1389200054021807.


Trimethylamine (TMA) is a volatile tertiary aliphatic amine that is derived from the diet either directly from the consumption of foods containing TMA, or by the intake of food containing precursors to TMA such as trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMNO), choline and L-carnitine. Following oral absorption in humans, TMA undergoes efficient N-oxidation to TMNO, a reaction catalyzed by the flavin-containing monooxygenase (FMO) isoform 3 enzyme. TMNO subsequently undergoes excretion in the urine, although, evidence also suggests that metabolic retro-reduction of TMNO can occur. Whilst the pharmacokinetics of TMA and TMNO has not been fully elucidated in humans, a number of studies provide information on the likely fate of dietary derived TMA. Trimethylaminuria is a condition that is characterized by a deficiency in FMO3 enzyme activity, resulting in the excretion of increased amounts of TMA in bodily fluids such as urine and sweat, and breath. A human FMO3 database has been established and currently twenty-eight variants of the FMO3 gene have been reported including twenty-four missense, three nonsense, and one gross deletion mutation. Whilst TMA and TMNO are generally regarded as non-toxic substances, they are of clinical interest because of their potential to form the carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / chemically induced
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / metabolism
  • Methylamines / adverse effects*
  • Methylamines / metabolism
  • Methylamines / pharmacokinetics*


  • Methylamines
  • trimethylamine