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Original research
Interplay between diet and gut microbiome, and circulating concentrations of trimethylamine N-oxide: findings from a longitudinal cohort of US men


Objectives Gut-produced trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is postulated as a possible link between red meat intake and poor cardiometabolic health. We investigated whether gut microbiome could modify associations of dietary precursors with TMAO concentrations and cardiometabolic risk markers among free-living individuals.

Design We collected up to two pairs of faecal samples (n=925) and two blood samples (n=473), 6 months apart, from 307 healthy men in the Men’s Lifestyle Validation Study. Diet was assessed repeatedly using food-frequency questionnaires and diet records. We profiled faecal metagenome and metatranscriptome using shotgun sequencing and identified microbial taxonomic and functional features.

Results TMAO concentrations were associated with the overall microbial compositions (permutational analysis of variance (PERMANOVA) test p=0.001). Multivariable taxa-wide association analysis identified 10 bacterial species whose abundance was significantly associated with plasma TMAO concentrations (false discovery rate <0.05). Higher habitual intake of red meat and choline was significantly associated with higher TMAO concentrations among participants who were microbial TMAO-producers (p<0.05), as characterised based on four abundant TMAO-predicting species, but not among other participants (for red meat, P-interaction=0.003; for choline, P-interaction=0.03). Among abundant TMAO-predicting species, Alistipes shahii significantly strengthened the positive association between red meat intake and HbA1c levels (P-interaction=0.01). Secondary analyses revealed that some functional features, including choline trimethylamine-lyase activating enzymes, were associated with TMAO concentrations.

Conclusion We identified microbial taxa that were associated with TMAO concentrations and modified the associations of red meat intake with TMAO concentrations and cardiometabolic risk markers. Our data underscore the interplay between diet and gut microbiome in producing potentially bioactive metabolites that may modulate cardiometabolic health.

  • intestinal microbiology
  • cardiovascular disease
  • diet
  • epidemiology
  • nutrition

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Sequence data have been deposited in the Sequence Read Archive under BioProject ID: PRJNA354235. De-identified phenotype data from the MLVS (demographic, clinical, diet, and biomarkers) and from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), can be obtained through written application. According to standard controlled access procedure, applications to use HPFS resources will be reviewed by our External Collaborators Committee for scientific aims, evaluation of the fit of the data for the proposed methodology, and verification that the proposed use meets the guidelines of the Ethics and Governance Framework and the consent that was provided by the participants. Investigators wishing to use HFPS or MLVS data are asked to submit a brief (two pages) description of the proposed project (’letter of intent’) to E.B.R. (HPFS Director;

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