Fecal Microbiome Composition Does Not Predict Diet-Induced TMAO Production in Healthy Adults

J Am Heart Assoc. 2021 Nov 2;10(21):e021934. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.121.021934. Epub 2021 Oct 29.


Background Trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) is a small molecule derived from the metabolism of dietary nutrients by gut microbes and contributes to cardiovascular disease. Plasma TMAO increases following consumption of red meat. This metabolic change is thought to be partly because of the expansion of gut microbes able to use nutrients abundant in red meat. Methods and Results We used data from a randomized crossover study to estimate the degree to which TMAO can be estimated from fecal microbial composition. Healthy participants received a series of 3 diets that differed in protein source (red meat, white meat, and non-meat), and fecal, plasma, and urine samples were collected following 4 weeks of exposure to each diet. TMAO was quantitated in plasma and urine, while shotgun metagenomic sequencing was performed on fecal DNA. While the cai gene cluster was weakly correlated with plasma TMAO (rho=0.17, P=0.0007), elastic net models of TMAO were not improved by abundances of bacterial genes known to contribute to TMAO synthesis. A global analysis of all taxonomic groups, genes, and gene families found no meaningful predictors of TMAO. We postulated that abundances of known genes related to TMAO production do not predict bacterial metabolism, and we measured choline- and carnitine-trimethylamine lyase activity during fecal culture. Trimethylamine lyase genes were only weakly correlated with the activity of the enzymes they encode. Conclusions Fecal microbiome composition does not predict systemic TMAO because, in this case, gene copy number does not predict bacterial metabolic activity. Registration URL: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov; Unique identifier: NCT01427855.

Keywords: fecal microbiome; metagenomics; trimethylamine N‐oxide; trimethylamine lyase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Choline / metabolism
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Diet
  • Feces
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Lyases / metabolism
  • Methylamines / blood
  • Microbiota*


  • Methylamines
  • Lyases
  • trimethyloxamine
  • Choline

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01427855