A mechanistic link between trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) and atherogenesis has been reported. TMAO is generated enzymatically in the liver by the oxidation of trimethylamine (TMA), which is produced from dietary choline, carnitine and betaine by gut bacteria. It is known that certain members of methanogenic archaea (MA) could use methylated amines such as trimethylamine as growth substrates in culture. Therefore, we investigated the efficacy of gut colonization with MA on lowering plasma TMAO concentrations. Initially, we screened for the colonization potential and TMAO lowering efficacy of five MA species in C57BL/6 mice fed with high choline/TMA supplemented diet, and found out that all five species could colonize and lover plasma TMAO levels, although with different efficacies. The top performing MA, Methanobrevibacter smithii, Methanosarcina mazei, and Methanomicrococcus blatticola, were transplanted into Apoe−/− mice fed with high choline/TMA supplemented diet. Similar to C57BL/6 mice, following initial provision of the MA, there was progressive attrition of MA within fecal microbial communities post-transplantation during the initial 3 weeks of the study. In general, plasma TMAO concentrations decreased significantly in proportion to the level of MA colonization. In a subsequent experiment, use of antibiotics and repeated transplantation of Apoe−/− mice with M. smithii, led to high engraftment levels during the 9 weeks of the study, resulting in a sustained and significantly lower average plasma TMAO concentrations (18.2 ± 19.6 μM) compared to that in mock-transplanted control mice (120.8 ± 13.0 μM, p < 0.001). Compared to control Apoe−/− mice, M. smithii-colonized mice also had a 44% decrease in aortic plaque area (8,570 μm [95% CI 19587–151821] vs. 15,369 μm [95% CI [70058–237321], p = 0.34), and 52% reduction in the fat content in the atherosclerotic plaques (14,283 μm [95% CI 4,957–23,608] vs. 29,870 μm [95% CI 18,074–41,666], p = 0.10), although these differences did not reach significance. Gut colonization with M. smithii leads to a significant reduction in plasma TMAO levels, with a tendency for attenuation of atherosclerosis burden in Apoe−/− mice. The anti-atherogenic potential of MA should be further tested in adequately powered experiments.
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