Thiopurine metabolism monitoring: implications in inflammatory bowel diseases

Eur J Clin Invest. 2010 Nov;40(11):1037-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2362.2010.02346.x. Epub 2010 Aug 19.


Background: Thiopurines (TP) are widely used in the management of inflammatory bowel diseases. Side effects and inefficacy are a major concern as they lead to withdrawal of the drug.

Materials and methods: Tools investigating TP metabolism are useful to avoid inadequate cessation of TP therapy.

Results: TP metabolism is complex and many enzymes are involved. Among them, Thiopurine methyl transferase is the only one routinely measured by pheno- or genotyping. A decreased TPMT activity results in a potential overdosing of TP drugs leading to myelotoxicity, whereas an ultra-high activity leads to TP ineffectiveness and overproduction of methylated compounds responsible for hepatotoxicity. TPMT determination prior to TP treatment results in an individual adapted dose. Xanthine oxidase/dehydrogenase (XOD), inosine triphosphate pyrophosphatase (ITPA) and glutathion-S-transferase (GST) are other promising enzyme targets that might help to explain TP efficacy or toxicity. ITPA and GST polymorphisms might potentially be related to some TP side effects, while a XOD inhibition by allopurinol could avoid TP-related hepatotoxicity.

Conclusions: Utilization of thiopurine metabolites, 6-thioguanine nucleotides and 6-methylmercaptopurine, is discussed, specifically, in case of thiopurine failure and recommendations are given about their interpretation and potential dose optimization. These enzymes and metabolites tests are complementary to the regular monitoring of blood cells count and liver tests which remains mandatory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimetabolites / adverse effects*
  • Antimetabolites / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / adverse effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / genetics
  • Methyltransferases / genetics
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Purines / adverse effects*
  • Purines / pharmacology
  • Thionucleotides / adverse effects*
  • Thionucleotides / pharmacology


  • Antimetabolites
  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Purines
  • Thionucleotides
  • Methyltransferases
  • thiopurine methyltransferase