The cytotoxicity of clozapine metabolites: Implications for predicting clozapine-induced agranulocytosis

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Abstract

Background:

Therapy of schizophrenia with clozapine is associated with the unpredictable development of severe neutropenia and agranulocytosis in 1% to 2% of patients. The mechanism of this effect is unknown but may involve reactive products of clozapine generated by either hepatic metabolism or oxidation by the peroxidase-peroxide system of activated neutrophils.

Methods:

Involvement of reactive metabolites was tested with in vitro cytotoxicity assays with use of peripheral blood mononuclear cells isolated from 3 groups of subjects: normal control subjects, patients with schizophrenia who tolerated clozapine therapy (control patients), and patients with schizophrenia in whom agranulocytosis developed while taking clozapine (patients with agranulocytosis). Cell viability was determined after incubations with clozapine and rat liver microsomes or clozapine and horseradish peroxidase-peroxide (HRP-H2O2).

Results:

In microsomal incubations, clozapine significantly increased the cell death in all groups: control subjects (8.8% ± 1.6%), control patients (7.4% ± 0.4%), and patients with agranulocytosis (9.1% ± 1.5%). However, differences between mean values were not statistically significant. In similar incubations with HRP-H2O2, clozapine significantly increased toxicity (P < .05) in cells from patients with agranulocytosis (22% ± 4.6%) compared with those from normal control subjects (7.7% ± 4.1%) or control patients (6.5% ± 4.4%).

Conclusions:

These results suggest that both generating systems metabolized clozapine to toxic products. Some products may play a role in clozapine-induced agranulocytosis. Of diagnostic relevance is the observation the HRP-H2O2 produces significantly greater toxicity in cells from patients with agranulocytosis than in cells from control patients. Although the exact mechanism(s) of drug activation in vivo remains unclear, the bioactivation of clozapine by HRP-H2O2 may be a useful in vitro tool for predicting which patients are at risk for agranulocytosis before initiation of therapy.

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