Plasma trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) levels predict future risk of coronary artery disease in apparently healthy individuals in the EPIC-Norfolk prospective population study

W. H. Wilson Tang*, Xinmin S. Li, Yuping Wu, Zeneng Wang, Kay-Tee Khaw, Nicholas J. Wareham, Max Nieuwdorp, S. Matthijs Boekholdt, Stanley L. Hazen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Recent studies show a mechanistic link between gut microbiota-dependent formation of the atherosclerosis- and thrombosis-promoting metabolite trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). The clinical utility of TMAO in apparently healthy subjects for predicting incident CVD risks is unclear. Methods and Results: In the EPIC-Norfolk community-based study, we examined baseline fasting levels of TMAO and two of its nutrient precursors, choline and betaine, in a case:control design study comparing apparently European healthy middle-aged participants who subsequently develop CVD (Cases, n = 908) vs those who did not (Controls, n = 1,273) over an ensuing average follow-up period of 8 years. In participants who developed CVD vs controls, higher plasma TMAO (3.70 [IQR 2.50-6.41]μM vs 3.25 [IQR 2.19-52,1.15]μM; P <.001) and choline levels (9.09 [IQR 7.87-10.53]μM vs 8.89 [IQR 7.66-10.13]μM; P =.001) were observed. Following adjustments for traditional risk factors, elevated TMAO (adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.58 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.21-2.06], P <.001) and choline levels (adjusted OR 1.31 [95%CI 1.00-1.72], P <.05) remained predictive of incident CVD development. The clinical prognostic utility of TMAO remained significant and essentially unchanged regardless of the level of cutoff chosen between 1.5 uM (10%ile) to 10.5 uM (90%ile). Conclusion: In apparently healthy participants of the community-based middle-aged EPIC-Norfolk population, elevated plasma levels of the gut microbe-dependent metabolite TMAO, and its nutrient precursor choline, predict incident risk for CVD development independent of traditional risk factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-86
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Heart Journal
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Cite this