Trimethylamine N-oxide: A link among diet, gut microbiota, gene regulation of liver and intestine cholesterol homeostasis and HDL function

Marina Canyelles, Mireia Tondo, Lídia Cedó, Marta Farràs, Joan Carles Escolà-Gil, Francisco Blanco-Vaca

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© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Recent evidence, including massive gene-expression analysis and a wide-variety of other multi-omics approaches, demonstrates an interplay between gut microbiota and the regulation of plasma lipids. Gut microbial metabolism of choline and L-carnitine results in the formation of trimethylamine (TMA) and concomitant conversion into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) by liver flavin monooxygenase 3 (FMO3). The plasma level of TMAO is determined by the genetic variation, diet and composition of gut microbiota. Multiple studies have demonstrated an association between TMAO plasma levels and the risk of atherothrombotic cardiovascular disease (CVD). We aimed to review the molecular pathways by which TMAO production and FMO3 exert their proatherogenic effects. TMAO may promote foam cell formation by upregulating macrophage scavenger receptors, deregulating enterohepatic cholesterol and bile acid metabolism and impairing macrophage reverse cholesterol transport (RCT). Furthermore, FMO3 may promote dyslipidemia by regulating multiple genes involved in hepatic lipogenesis and gluconeogenesis. FMO3 also impairs multiple aspects of cholesterol homeostasis, including transintestinal cholesterol export and macrophage-specific RCT. At least part of these FMO3-mediated effects on lipid metabolism and atherogenesis seem to be independent of the TMA/TMAO formation. Overall, these findings have the potential to open a new era for the therapeutic manipulation of the gut microbiota to improve CVD risk.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3228
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease
  • Cholesterol homeostasis
  • FMO3
  • Intestinal microbiota
  • Reverse cholesterol transport
  • Trimethylamine
  • Trimethylamine-N-oxide


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