Plasma trimethylamine N-oxide, a gut microbe–generated phosphatidylcholine metabolite, is associated with autism spectrum disorders

Lijuan Quan, Jinping Yi, Yue Zhao, Feng Zhang, Xiao Tong Shi, Zhen Feng, Haylie L. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: The compositions of the gut microbiota and its metabolites were altered in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The aim of this study was to assess whether plasma levels of gut-derived metabolite trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) were associated with ASD and the degree of symptom severity. Methods: From September 2017 to January 2019, a total of three hundred and twenty-eight Chinese children (164 with ASD and 164 their age-sex matched control subjects) aged 3–8 years were included. TMAO levels in plasma were determined using high-performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS). Logistic regression analysis was used to examine the TMAO-ASD association. Results: In the study, the median age of the ASD group was 5 years (interquartile range [IQR], 4–6 years) and 129 (78.7%) were boys. The median plasma levels of TMAO in children with ASD and typically-developing (TD) children at admission were 4.2 (IQR, 3.0–5.6) μmol/l and 3.0 (2.0–4.4) μmol/l, respectively (P < 0.001). For each 1 μmol/l increase of plasma TMAO, the unadjusted and adjusted risk of ASD would be increased by 54% (with the odds ratios [OR] of 1.54; 95% confidence intervals [CI]: 1.32–1.78; P < 0.001) and 27% (1.27 [1.10–1.45], P < 0.001), respectively. Symptom severity was classified as mild-to-moderate (CARS < 37) for 66 children with ASD (40.2%). In these children, the plasma levels of TMAO were lower than in the 98 children with ASD (59.8%) whose symptoms were classified as severe (CARS > 36) (3.5[2.5–4.9] μmol/l vs. 4.5(3.7–6.0) μmol/l; P < 0.001). For each 1 μmol/l increase of plasma TMAO, the unadjusted and adjusted risk of severe autism would be increased by 61% (with the OR of 1.61 [95% CI 1.28–2.01], P < 0.001) and 31% (1.31 [1.08–1.49], P < 0.001), respectively. Conclusions: Elevated plasma levels of TMAO were associated with ASD and symptom severity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-98
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020



  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Chinese
  • Gut microbiota
  • Trimethylamine N-oxide

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