Pharmacokinetics of 6-thiouric acid and 6-mercaptopurine in renal allograft recipients after oral administration of azathioprine

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1989;36(3):265-71. doi: 10.1007/BF00558158.


The immunosuppressive activity of azathioprine (AZA) is unpredictable and depends on the formation of intracellular thiopurine ribonucleotides. However, the quantification of these active thiopurines presents difficult analytical problems. It has recently been postulated that plasma concentrations of 6-thiouric acid (6-TU) and 6-mercapto-purine (6-MP), metabolites of AZA, may provide more readily measurable indices of the pharmacologic activity of AZA. In order to evaluate the utility of 6-TU and 6-MP plasma concentrations in monitoring AZA therapy, we studied their pharmacokinetics in 6 renal transplant patients, and their in vitro immunosuppressive potency in a mixed lymphocyte proliferation assay. A peak plasma 6-TU concentration of 710.7 ng/ml was observed at 3.8 h after oral dosing. Good correlation was observed between the elimination t1/2 of 6-TU and serum creatinine, and between AUC over 24 h and serum creatinine. However, we did not observe a second peak in plasma 6-TU concentration that could be attributed to the degradation of active AZA metabolites. 6-MP plasma concentrations in the patients were low (mean peak concentration 36.0 ng/ml) and rapidly disappeared within 8 h. In vitro immunosuppressive activity could not be demonstrated for 6-TU over a concentration range of 1.25 ng/ml to 0.25 mg/ml. We conclude that 6-TU is pharmacologically inert and is primarily eliminated by the kidneys. Our findings currently do not support the use of plasma concentrations of 6-TU or 6-MP to monitor AZA therapy. In order to optimize AZA therapy, analytical techniques that are technically feasible and that can directly quantify the active intracellular thiopurines are being explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Azathioprine / administration & dosage
  • Azathioprine / pharmacokinetics
  • Azathioprine / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Transplantation*
  • Lymphocyte Culture Test, Mixed
  • Male
  • Mercaptopurine / blood
  • Mercaptopurine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Factors
  • Transplantation, Homologous
  • Uric Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Uric Acid / pharmacokinetics
  • Uric Acid / pharmacology


  • Uric Acid
  • 6-thiouric acid
  • Mercaptopurine
  • Azathioprine