Wednesday, December 1, 2021

FMO3 and COVID-19

Flavin-containing monooxygenase 3 (FMO3) enzyme is a seemingly insignificant enzyme that normally converts fishy-smelling trimethylamine (TMA) into a neutral trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). The amounts of this highly-specialized detoxifying enzyme are highly variable. It depends on the age, sex hormones, infections (estradiol and testosterone, hepatitis virus have been found to reduce FMO3 capacity), obesity traits and diseases such as diabetes. The difference can be up to 20-fold between individuals. Mutations in the FMO3 gene cause low metabolic capacity associated with the disorder trimethylaminuria (TMAU) that attracts little biomedical interest.  This condition, however, might matter more than it seems.

Could there be a link between FMO3 and SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination? 

Individuals differ in their susceptibility to viral infections and genes contribute to the risk score. Less than 10% of humans infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis develop TB, partially because of polymorphism in Tyrosine kinase (TYK2, P1104A) also responsible for severe COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, it was discovered that SARS-CoV-2 infection is dependent on the ACE2 receptor for cell entry and the serine protease TMPRSS2 for spike protein priming. ACE2 expression, indeed, influences COVID-19 risk and a rare variant located close to this gene was found to confer protection against COVID-19, possibly by decreasing ACE2 expression. Interestingly, FMO3 is one of the few genes with expression correlated to ACE2 [Sungnak et al, 2020] along with genes associated with immune functions. 

Coronavirus disease is associated with increased risk of thrombotic events. According to recent research, low levels of FMO3 protect against thrombosis [Shih et al, 2019] while some FMO3 mutations confer higher risk [Oliveira-Filho et al, 2021]. FMO3 rs1736557 might increase the anti‐platelet efficacy of clopidogrel [Zhu et al, 2021]. Genetic risk can be mediated by gut microbiota [Gabashvili, 2020]. There are also associations with other diseases such as diabetes, renal and cardiovascular conditions increasing risk of severe COVID-19. 

Studying trimethylaminuria-like conditions might help in developing strategies for prevention and therapy of other diseases, including COVID-19.

Our COVID-19 disease and vaccines study [NCT04832932, Gabashvili, 2021] compares side-effects of vaccines and clinical course of infections (including vaccine breakthroughs) in several cohorts including MEBO and TMAU. You can help by enrolling and participating in this online survey in English or Spanish.


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Gabashvili IS. Community-Based Phenotypic Study of Safety, Tolerability, Reactogenicity and Immunogenicity of Emergency-Use-Authorized Vaccines Against COVID-19 and Viral Shedding Potential of Post-Vaccination Infections: Protocol for an Ambispective study. medRxiv 2021.06.28.21256779; doi:

Liu W, Wang C, Xia Y, Xia W, Liu G, Ren C, Gu Y, Li X, Lu P. Elevated plasma trimethylamine-N-oxide levels are associated with diabetic retinopathy. Acta Diabetologica. 2021 Feb;58(2):221-9.

Janmohamed A, Dolphin CT, Phillips IR, Shephard EA. Quantification and cellular localization of expression in human skin of genes encoding flavin-containing monooxygenases and cytochromes P450. Biochemical pharmacology. 2001 Sep 15;62(6):777-86.

Oliveira-Filho AF, Medeiros PF, Velloso RN, Lima EC, Aquino IM, Nunes AB. Trimethylaminuria and Vascular Complications. Journal of the Endocrine Society. 2021 Apr;5(Supplement_1):A313-4. 

Zhu KX, Song PY, Li MP, Du YX, Ma QL, Peng LM, Chen XP. Association of FMO3 rs1736557 polymorphism with clopidogrel response in Chinese patients with coronary artery disease. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2021 Mar;77(3):359-68.

Sungnak W, Huang N, Bécavin C, Berg M, Queen R, Litvinukova M, Talavera-López C, Maatz H, Reichart D, Sampaziotis F, Worlock KB. SARS-CoV-2 entry factors are highly expressed in nasal epithelial cells together with innate immune genes. Nature medicine. 2020 May;26(5):681-7.

Shih, D.M., Zhu, W., Schugar, R.C., Meng, Y., Jia, X., Miikeda, A., Wang, Z., Zieger, M., Lee, R., Graham, M. and Allayee, H., 2019. Genetic deficiency of Flavin-containing monooxygenase 3 (Fmo3) protects against thrombosis but has only a minor effect on plasma lipid levels—brief report. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology, 39(6), pp.1045-1054.