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Food Chem Toxicol. 1989 Jan;27(1):31-4.

Formation of aliphatic amine precursors of N-nitrosodimethylamine after oral administration of choline and choline analogues in the rat.

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Department of Pathology, Boston University School of Medicine, MA 02118.


Trimethylamine and dimethylamine are important precursors of N-nitrosodimethylamine, which is a potent carcinogen in a wide variety of animal species. Choline, a component of the normal human diet, is metabolized by bacteria within the intestine to form trimethylamine and dimethylamine. However, animals on a choline-free diet continue to excrete some trimethylamine and dimethylamine, suggesting that other dietary precursors of these methylamines might exist. To determine whether C-N bond cleavage by the intestinal bacteria is specific to the choline molecule, we measured monomethylamine, dimethylamine, trimethylamine and trimethylamine oxide excretion in rat urine after the administration of compounds that shared structural features with choline. Water, choline, dimethylaminoethanol, diethylaminoethanol, phosphocholine, betaine, carnitine, beta-methylcholine or dimethylaminoethyl chloride were administered by orogastric intubation, and the urine was collected for 24 hr. Administration of choline (15 mmol/kg body weight) resulted in increased urinary excretion of dimethylamine, trimethylamine and trimethylamine oxide (increases of approximately twofold, 500-fold and 50-fold, respectively). Of the administered choline, 12% was converted to trimethylamine or trimethylamine oxide and excreted in the urine within 24 hr. Phosphocholine administration resulted in similar increases in dimethylamine, trimethylamine and trimethylamine oxide excretion by rats. Modification of the ethyl-backbone or quaternary amine end of the choline molecule resulted in marked suppression of methylamine formation. Though administration of some analogues of choline (methylcholine, betaine and carnitine) resulted in the formation of small amounts of trimethylamine or trimethylamine oxide, and the administration of others (dimethylaminoethanol and dimethylaminoethyl chloride) resulted in the formation of some dimethylamine, the amounts formed were minimal compared with the amounts of trimethylamine and trimethylamine oxide formed after choline administration. Thus, of the many components of foods, only choline and its esters are likely to be significant substrates for trimethylamine and dimethylamine formation. How then can we explain the persistence of trimethylamine and dimethylamine excretion observed in choline-deficient rats? We suggest that endogenous (non-bacterial) synthesis of trimethylamine and dimethylamine occurs within some tissue of the rat.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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