Paradox of trimethylamine-N-oxide, the impact of malnutrition on microbiota-derived metabolites and septic patients

Ruey Hsing Chou, Po Shan Wu, Shen Chih Wang, Cheng Hsueh Wu, Shu Fen Lu, Ru Yu Lien, Yi Lin Tsai, Ya Wen Lu, Ming Ren Kuo, Jiun Yu Guo, Ruey Yi Chou, Po Hsun Huang*, Shing Jong Lin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is a microbiota-derived metabolite, which is linked to vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis in cardiovascular (CV) diseases. But its effect in infectious diseases remains unclear. We conducted a single-center prospective study to investigate association of TMAO with in-hospital mortality in septic patients admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). Methods: Totally 95 septic, mechanically ventilated patients were enrolled. Blood samples were obtained within 24 h after ICU admission, and plasma TMAO concentrations were determined. Septic patients were grouped into tertiles according to TMAO concentration. The primary outcome was in-hospital death, which further classified as CV and non-CV death. Besides, we also compared the TMAO concentrations of septic patients with 129 non-septic patients who were admitted for elective coronary angiography (CAG). Results: Septic patients had significantly lower plasma TMAO levels than did subjects admitted for CAG (1.0 vs. 3.0 μmol/L, p < 0.001). Septic patients in the lowest TMAO tertile (< 0.4 μmol/L) had poorer nutrition status and were given longer antibiotic courses before ICU admission. Circulating TMAO levels correlated positively with daily energy intake, the albumin and prealbumin concentration. Compared with those in the highest TMAO tertile, septic patients in the lowest TMAO tertile were at greater risk of non-CV death (hazard ratio 2.51, 95% confidence interval 1.21–5.24, p = 0.014). However, TMAO concentration was no longer an independent predictor for non-CV death after adjustment for disease severity and nutritional status. Conclusion: Plasma TMAO concentration was inversely associated with non-CV death among extremely ill septic patients, which could be characterized as TMAO paradox. For septic patients, the impact of malnutrition reflected by circulating TMAO levels was greater than its pro-inflammatory nature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number65
JournalJournal of Intensive Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Gut microbiota
  • Inflammation
  • Nutrition
  • Sepsis
  • Trimethylamine N-oxide


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