A Severe Neonatal Lymphopenia Associated With Administration of Azathioprine to the Mother in a Context of Crohn's Disease

J Crohns Colitis. 2018 Jan 24;12(2):258-261. doi: 10.1093/ecco-jcc/jjx123.


Azathioprine is commonly used in Crohn's disease. It has been administered to many pregnant women over many years without significant side effects. However, pancytopenia and severe combined immune deficiency-like disease have been reported in infants whose mothers received azathioprine throughout pregnancy. Moreover, myelotoxicity has been described in patients being treated with azathioprine and having a low or absent thiopurine S-methyl transferase [TPMT] activity.Here, we describe the case of a newborn girl found to be highly lymphopenic [< 300 CD3+ T cells] after a positive newborn screening for severe combined immuno deficiency. The clinical examination was normal. The mother was treated with azathioprine throughout her pregnancy, without any reduction of the dose. It was shown that the mother was heterozygous for the 3A [TPMT] activity mutation and that the baby was homozygous for the same mutation; 6-thioguanine nucleotides were high (744 pmol/8.108 red blood cells [RBC]) in the mother and detectable in the infant [177 pmol/8.108 RBC].Although rare, this case illustrates the potential grave consequences of unsuspected TPMT homozygosity in a newborn of a mother receiving thiopurines during pregnancy. Because of the severity of the risk for the newborn, consideration should be given to performing maternal genetic testing and newborn routine blood count in cases of thiopurine treatment during pregnancy.

Keywords: Azathioprine; Crohn’s disease; SCID; TRECs; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Azathioprine / adverse effects*
  • Crohn Disease / drug therapy*
  • Crohn Disease / genetics
  • Female
  • Homozygote
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lymphopenia / chemically induced*
  • Lymphopenia / genetics
  • Methyltransferases / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Methyltransferases
  • thiopurine methyltransferase
  • Azathioprine