Drug Insight: Pharmacology and toxicity of thiopurine therapy in patients with IBD

Nanne K.H. de Boer, Adriaan A. van Bodegraven, Bindia Jharap, Peer de Graaf, Chris J.J. Mulder

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)


Thiopurines are frequently used for the treatment of IBD. The complex pharmacology, metabolism, mechanism of action and toxicity profile of these immunosuppressive drugs have now been partly elucidated. The activity of thiopurines is partly mediated by the metabolite 6-thioguanosine 5′-triphosphate, which inhibits the function of the small GTPase Rac1, leading to apoptosis of activated T cells, and influences the conjugation of T cells with antigen-presenting cells. The activity of the enzyme thiopurine S-methyltransferase has a major influence on the bioavailability and toxicity of thiopurines, and several thiopurine metabolites might have adverse effects in patients. Myelotoxicity can be caused by grossly elevated levels of 6-thioguanine nucleotides, and elevated levels of 6-methylmercaptopurine ribonucleotides have been associated with hepatotoxicity. The sensitivity and specificity of these methylated metabolites for predicting thiopurine-induced liver enzyme abnormalities are, however, poor. 6-Thioguanine has been suggested as an alternative to the classical thiopurines azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine for the treatment of IBD, but there are concerns about its toxicity profile, especially with regard to the induction of nodular regenerative hyperplasia of the liver. Data now suggest that the induction of nodular regenerative hyperplasia of the liver during 6-thioguanine therapy might be dose-dependent or dependent on the level of 6-thioguanine nucleotides.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)686-694
Number of pages9
JournalNature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2007

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