Review article: thiopurines in inflammatory bowel disease

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Sep 1;24(5):715-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2006.02980.x.


Background: In the past 10-20 years, knowledge of both thiopurine pharmacology and -pharmacogenetics has been extended dramatically and used to develop new strategies to improve efficacy and reduce toxicity.

Aim: To review thiopurine efficacy, toxicity, pharmacology, pharmacogenetics, interactions in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Special attention was paid to new strategies for optimization of pharmacotherapy.

Methods: To collect relevant scientific articles, a Pubmed search was performed from 1966 through January 2006 with the following key words (MeSH terms preferentially) in multiple combinations: 'azathioprine', '6-mercaptopurine', '6-MP', '6-thioguanine', '6-TG', 'thiopurine(s)', 'metabolites', 'level(s)', 'TDM', 'TMPT', 'ITPA', 'genotype(s)', 'phenotype(s)', 'inflammatory bowel disease', 'Crohn('s) disease', 'ulcerative colitis'.

Results: Strategies for optimization of pharmacotherapy include therapeutic drug monitoring of thiopurine metabolites, geno- or phenotyping crucial enzymes in thiopurine metabolism like thiopurine S-methyltransferase and inosine triphosphate pyrophosphatase, and the use of thioguanine as such.

Conclusions: Thiopurine S-methyltransferase genotyping and therapeutic drug monitoring are useful instruments for individualizing thiopurine pharmacotherapy of inflammatory bowel disease. Inosine triphosphate pyrophosphatase genotyping may be helpful in case of unexplainable myelotoxicity. In case of azathioprine- or mercaptopurine-intolerance, thioguanine seems a promising alternative. However, more knowledge needs to be gathered about its potential hepatotoxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Azathioprine / adverse effects
  • Azathioprine / pharmacokinetics
  • Azathioprine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Interactions
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / adverse effects
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Mercaptopurine / adverse effects
  • Mercaptopurine / pharmacokinetics
  • Mercaptopurine / therapeutic use
  • Methyltransferases / genetics
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Purines / adverse effects
  • Purines / pharmacokinetics
  • Purines / therapeutic use*
  • Thioguanine / adverse effects
  • Thioguanine / pharmacokinetics
  • Thioguanine / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Xanthine Oxidase / metabolism


  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Purines
  • Mercaptopurine
  • Xanthine Oxidase
  • Methyltransferases
  • thiopurine methyltransferase
  • Thioguanine
  • Azathioprine