T cells ignore the parent drug propylthiouracil but are sensitized to a reactive metabolite generated in vivo

Clin Immunol Immunopathol. 1996 Aug;80(2):162-70. doi: 10.1006/clin.1996.0110.


The antithyroid drug propylthiouracil (PTU) is known to cause adverse immunological side effects, such as a lupus-like syndrome and vasculitic disorders. In vitro experiments have established that myeloperoxidase of activated neutrophils can oxidize PTU to the reactive intermediate propyluracil 2-sulfonate PTU-SO3-, and it has been proposed that PTU-SO3- might be responsible for the PTU-associated side effects. Here, using the direct popliteal lymph node assay (PLNA) in mice we found that PTU-SO3-, indeed, induced a T-cell-dependent primary PLN response, whereas the parent compound PTU failed to do so. As shown by adoptive transfer PLNA, splenic T cells of mice that had received four injections of PTU-SO3- mounted a specific secondary response to the reactive metabolite, but not to PTU. When homogenized peritoneal phagocytes, which had been incubated with PTU in vitro, were used as the antigen, a primary response in the direct PLNA was elicited, suggesting that the phagocytes contained the reactive metabolite. Moreover, T cells sensitized to the reactive metabolite PTU-SO3- were detected in mice that were undergoing long-term treatment with PTU plus an additional treatment with phorbol myristate acetate for stimulation of the oxidative metabolism of their phagocytic cells. Together, these findings support the concept that phagocytes oxidize PTU to its immunogenic metabolite, PTU-SO3-, which then, presumably via covalently binding to self-proteins, induces T cell sensitization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation / immunology
  • Female
  • Hindlimb
  • Immunization, Secondary
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Nude
  • Phagocytes / drug effects
  • Phagocytes / immunology
  • Propylthiouracil / adverse effects
  • Propylthiouracil / immunology*
  • Propylthiouracil / metabolism*
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Propylthiouracil