The purpose of this study was to examine the pharmacokinetics of mercaptopurine (6-MP) and thioguanine nucleotides (6-TGN) during azathioprine treatment. Plasma profiles and urinary excretion of 6-MP and 6-TGN concentrations in red blood cells (RBCs) were measured repeatedly during the first 3 weeks following transplantation in 10 adults, who had received kidney grafts from living related donors. Mean maximal 6-MP plasma concentration (Cmax) was 340 nmol/L (SD = 290), mean time to Cmax (7max) was 2 h (SD = 1.8), and mean area under the plasma concentration-time curve (AUC) was 930 nmol/L/h (SD = 770). The mean fraction of azathioprine dose excreted as 6-MP in urine was 1.32% (SD = 1.11). Up to eightfold variability of Cmax and AUC was observed from day to day within each patient. The correlation between 6-MP AUC and amount excreted in the urine was weak (r = 0.37, 95% CI from 0.02 to 0.64). In this group of patients the observed 6-TGN levels in RBCs were low; maxima during the observation period ranged from undetectable to 250 pmol/8 x 108 RBCs. In individual patients, 6-TGN levels were relatively stable throughout the dosing interval (“within-dose-interval-CV” < 19%), even when sharp and high 6-MP peaks in plasma were observed.