Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: The gut-derived metabolite Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) and its precursors - betaine, carnitine, choline, and deoxycarnitine - have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but their relation to cognition, neuroimaging markers, and dementia remains uncertain. METHODS: In the population-based Rotterdam Study, we used multivariable regression models to study the associations between plasma TMAO, its precursors, and cognition in 3,143 participants. Subsequently, we examined their link to structural brain MRI markers in 2,047 participants, with a partial validation in the Leiden Longevity Study (n = 318). Among 2,517 participants, we assessed the risk of incident dementia using multivariable Cox proportional hazard models. Following this, we stratified the longitudinal associations by medication use and sex, after which we conducted a sensitivity analysis for individuals with impaired renal function. RESULTS: Overall, plasma TMAO was not associated with cognition, neuroimaging markers or incident dementia. Instead, higher plasma choline was significantly associated with poor cognition (adjusted mean difference: -0.170 [95% confidence interval (CI) -0.297;-0.043]), brain atrophy and more markers of cerebral small vessel disease, such as white matter hyperintensity volume (0.237 [95% CI: 0.076;0.397]). By contrast, higher carnitine concurred with lower white matter hyperintensity volume (-0.177 [95% CI: -0.343;-0.010]). Only among individuals with impaired renal function, TMAO appeared to increase risk of dementia (hazard ratio (HR): 1.73 [95% CI: 1.16;2.60]). No notable differences were observed in stratified analyses. CONCLUSIONS: Plasma choline, as opposed to TMAO, was found to be associated with cognitive decline, brain atrophy, and markers of cerebral small vessel disease. These findings illustrate the complexity of relationships between TMAO and its precursors, and emphasize the need for concurrent study to elucidate gut-brain mechanisms.

Original publication




Journal article


Alzheimers Res Ther

Publication Date





Cognition, Dementia, Gut-microbiome, Metabolites, Neuroimaging, Population-based, Humans, Methylamines, Male, Female, Dementia, Aged, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Neuroimaging, Middle Aged, Cognition, Brain, Choline, Biomarkers, Prospective Studies