Mechanism of Prominent Trimethylamine Oxide (TMAO) Accumulation in Hemodialysis Patients

PLoS One. 2015 Dec 9;10(12):e0143731. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143731. eCollection 2015.


Large size, protein binding and intracellular sequestration are well known to limit dialytic removal of compounds. In studying the normal renal and dialytic handling of trimethylamine oxide (TMAO), a molecule associated with cardiovascular disease in the general population, we discovered two largely unrecognized additional limitations to sustained reduction of a solute by chronic hemodialysis. We measured solute levels and handling in subjects on chronic hemodialysis (ESRD, n = 7) and compared these with levels and clearance in normal controls (NLS, n = 6). The ESRD patients had much higher peak predialysis plasma levels of TMAO than NLS (77 ± 26 vs 2±1 μM, mean ± SD, p<0.05). For comparison, predialysis BUN levels in ESRD subjects were 45±11 mg/dl and 15±3 mg/dl in NLS. Thus TMAO levels in ESRD average about 40 fold those in NLS while BUN is 3 fold NLS. However, the fractional reduction of TMAO concentration during dialysis, was in fact greater than that of urea (86±3 vs 74±6%, TMAO vs urea, p < 0.05) and its dialytic clearance while somewhat lower than that of urea was comparable to creatinine's. Also production rates were similar (533±272 vs 606 ± 220 μ moles/day, ESRD vs NLS, p>0.05). However, TMAO has a volume of distribution about one half that of urea. Also in NLS the urinary clearance of TMAO was high (219±78 ml/min) compared to the urinary urea and creatinine clearances (55±14 and 119±21 ml/min, respectively). Thus, TMAO levels achieve multiples of normal much greater than those of urea due mainly to 1) TMAO's high clearance by the normal kidney relative to urea and 2) its smaller volume of distribution. Modelling suggests that only much more frequent dialysis would be required to lower levels Thus, additional strategies such as reducing production should be explored. Furthermore, using urea as the sole marker of dialysis adequacy may be misleading since a molecule, TMAO, that is dialyzed readily accumulates to much higher multiples of normal with urea based dialysis prescriptions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Creatinine / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / blood
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / urine
  • Male
  • Methylamines / metabolism*
  • Renal Dialysis*
  • Urea / analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Methylamines
  • Urea
  • Creatinine
  • trimethyloxamine