Untargeted metabolomics identifies trimethyllysine, a TMAO-producing nutrient precursor, as a predictor of incident cardiovascular disease risk

JCI Insight. 2018 Mar 22;3(6):e99096. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.99096.


Using an untargeted metabolomics approach in initial (N = 99 subjects) and replication cohorts (N = 1,162), we discovered and structurally identified a plasma metabolite associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks, N6,N6,N6-trimethyl-L-lysine (trimethyllysine, TML). Stable-isotope-dilution tandem mass spectrometry analyses of an independent validation cohort (N = 2,140) confirmed TML levels are independently associated with incident (3-year) major adverse cardiovascular event risks (hazards ratio [HR], 2.4; 95% CI, 1.7-3.4) and incident (5-year) mortality risk (HR, 2.9; 95% CI, 2.0-4.2). Genome-wide association studies identified several suggestive loci for TML levels, but none reached genome-wide significance; and d9(trimethyl)-TML isotope tracer studies confirmed TML can serve as a nutrient precursor for gut microbiota-dependent generation of trimethylamine (TMA) and the atherogenic metabolite trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Although TML was shown to be abundant in both plant- and animal-derived foods, mouse and human fecal cultures (omnivores and vegans) showed slow conversion of TML to TMA. Furthermore, unlike chronic dietary choline, TML supplementation in mice failed to elevate plasma TMAO or heighten thrombosis potential in vivo. Thus, TML is identified as a strong predictor of incident CVD risks in subjects and to serve as a dietary precursor for gut microbiota-dependent generation of TMAO; however, TML does not appear to be a major microbial source for TMAO generation in vivo.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Cardiology; Cardiovascular disease; Cholesterol; Vascular Biology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism*
  • Carnitine
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Choline
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Lysine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Lysine / blood
  • Lysine / genetics
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Male
  • Metabolomics*
  • Methylamines / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrients / metabolism*
  • Risk Factors
  • Thrombosis


  • Methylamines
  • trimethyllysine
  • Cholesterol
  • trimethyloxamine
  • Lysine
  • trimethylamine
  • Choline
  • Carnitine