Prognostic value of choline and betaine depends on intestinal microbiota-generated metabolite trimethylamine-N-oxide

Eur Heart J. 2014 Apr;35(14):904-10. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehu002. Epub 2014 Feb 3.


Aims: Recent metabolomics and animal model studies show trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), an intestinal microbiota-dependent metabolite formed from dietary trimethylamine-containing nutrients such as phosphatidylcholine (PC), choline, and carnitine, is linked to coronary artery disease pathogenesis. Our aim was to examine the prognostic value of systemic choline and betaine levels in stable cardiac patients.

Methods and results: We examined the relationship between fasting plasma choline and betaine levels and risk of major adverse cardiac events (MACE = death, myocardial infraction, stroke) in relation to TMAO over 3 years of follow-up in 3903 sequential stable subjects undergoing elective diagnostic coronary angiography. In our study cohort, median (IQR) TMAO, choline, and betaine levels were 3.7 (2.4-6.2)μM, 9.8 (7.9-12.2)μM, and 41.1 (32.5-52.1)μM, respectively. Modest but statistically significant correlations were noted between TMAO and choline (r = 0.33, P < 0.001) and less between TMAO and betaine (r = 0.09, P < 0.001). Higher plasma choline and betaine levels were associated with a 1.9-fold and 1.4-fold increased risk of MACE, respectively (Quartiles 4 vs. 1; P < 0.01, each). Following adjustments for traditional cardiovascular risk factors and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, elevated choline [1.34 (1.03-1.74), P < 0.05], and betaine levels [1.33 (1.03-1.73), P < 0.05] each predicted increased MACE risk. Neither choline nor betaine predicted MACE risk when TMAO was added to the adjustment model, and choline and betaine predicted future risk for MACE only when TMAO was elevated.

Conclusion: Elevated plasma levels of choline and betaine are each associated with incident MACE risk independent of traditional risk factors. However, high choline and betaine levels are only associated with higher risk of future MACE with concomitant increase in TMAO.

Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Choline; Gut microbiota; Myocardial infarction; Nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betaine / metabolism*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Choline / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Methylamines / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Microbiota / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Factors


  • Methylamines
  • Betaine
  • trimethyloxamine
  • Choline