Trimethylamine-N-Oxide Promotes Age-Related Vascular Oxidative Stress and Endothelial Dysfunction in Mice and Healthy Humans

Age-related vascular endothelial dysfunction is a major antecedent to cardiovascular diseases. We investigated whether increased circulating levels of the gut microbiome-generated metabolite trimethylamine-N-oxide induces endothelial dysfunction with aging. In healthy humans, plasma trimethylamine-N-oxide was higher in middle-aged/older (64±7 years) versus young (22±2 years) adults (6.5±0.7 versus 1.6±0.2 µmol/L) and inversely related to brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (r2=0.29, P<0.00001).

In young mice, 6 months of dietary supplementation with trimethylamine-N-oxide induced an aging-like impairment in carotid artery endothelium-dependent dilation to acetylcholine versus control feeding (peak dilation: 79±3% versus 95±3%, P<0.01). This impairment was accompanied by increased vascular nitrotyrosine, a marker of oxidative stress, and reversed by the superoxide dismutase mimetic 4-hydroxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidin-1-oxyl. Trimethylamine-N-oxide supplementation also reduced activation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase and impaired nitric oxide-mediated dilation, as assessed with the nitric oxide synthase inhibitor L-NAME (NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester).

Acute incubation of carotid arteries with trimethylamine-N-oxide recapitulated these events. Next, treatment with 3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol for 8 to 10 weeks to suppress trimethylamine-N-oxide selectively improved endothelium-dependent dilation in old mice to young levels (peak: 90±2%) by normalizing vascular superoxide production, restoring nitric oxide-mediated dilation, and ameliorating superoxide-related suppression of endothelium-dependent dilation. Lastly, among healthy middle-aged/older adults, higher plasma trimethylamine-N-oxide was associated with greater nitrotyrosine abundance in biopsied endothelial cells, and infusion of the antioxidant ascorbic acid restored flow-mediated dilation to young levels, indicating tonic oxidative stress-related suppression of endothelial function with higher circulating trimethylamine-N-oxide.

Using multiple experimental approaches in mice and humans, we demonstrate a clear role of trimethylamine-N-oxide in promoting age-related endothelial dysfunction via oxidative stress, which may have implications for prevention of cardiovascular diseases.