Pharmacology of Thiopurine Therapy in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Complete Blood Cell Count Outcomes: A 5-Year Database Study

Berrie Meijer, Abraham J. Wilhelm, Chris J.J. Mulder, Gerd Bouma, Adriaan A. Van Bodegraven, Nanne K.H. De Boer

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Thiopurines are the prerequisite for immunomodulation in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) therapy. When administered in high (oncological) dose, thiopurine metabolites act as purine antagonists, causing DNA-strand breakage and myelotoxicity. In lower IBD dosages, the mode of action is primarily restricted to anti-inflammatory effects. Then, myelosuppression and hepatotoxicity are the most common adverse events of thiopurines. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of thiopurine metabolites on hematologic and hepatic parameters and to determine which patient characteristics are related to generation of thiopurine metabolites. Methods: The authors scrutinized the therapeutic drug monitoring database of the VU University medical center and subsequently merged this database with the Clinical Laboratory database of our hospital covering the same time period (2010-2015). Results: The authors included 940 laboratory findings of 424 unique patients in this study. Concentrations of 6-thioguanine nucleotides (6-TGN) correlated negatively with red blood cell count, white blood cell count, and neutrophil count in both azathioprine (AZA) and mercaptopurine users. There was a positive correlation with mean corpuscular volume. In patients using 6-thioguanine, 6-TGN concentrations correlated positively with white blood cell count. Furthermore, there was an inverse correlation between patient's age and 6-TGN concentrations in patients using AZA or 6-thioguanine, and we observed an inverse correlation between body mass index and 6-TGN concentrations in patients using AZA or mercaptopurine. No relations were observed with liver test abnormalities. Conclusions: Thiopurine derivative therapy influenced bone marrow production and the size of red blood cells. Age and body mass index were important pharmacokinetic factors in the generation of 6-TGN.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-405
Number of pages7
JournalTherapeutic drug monitoring
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • hepatotoxicity
  • leukocytopenia
  • myelosuppression
  • therapeutic drug monitoring
  • thiopurines

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