Azathioprine with Allopurinol: Lower Deoxythioguanosine in DNA and Transcriptome Changes Indicate Mechanistic Differences to Azathioprine Alone

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Abstract

Background:

Use of azathioprine (AZA) for inflammatory bowel disease is limited by side effects or poor efficacy. Combining low-dose azathioprine with allopurinol (LDAA) bypasses side effects, improves efficacy, and may be appropriate as first-line therapy. We test the hypothesis that standard-dose azathioprine (AZA) and LDAA treatments work by similar mechanisms, using incorporation of the metabolite deoxythioguanosine into patient DNA, white-blood cell counts, and transcriptome analysis as biological markers of drug effect.

Methods:

DNA was extracted from peripheral whole-blood from patients with IBD treated with AZA or LDAA, and analyzed for DNA-incorporated deoxythioguanosine. Measurement of red-blood cell thiopurine metabolites was part of usual clinical practice, and pre- and on-treatment (12 wk) blood samples were used for transcriptome analysis.

Results:

There were no differences in reduction of white-cell counts between the 2 treatment groups, but patients on LDAA had lower DNA-incorporated deoxythioguanosine than those on AZA; for both groups, incorporated deoxythioguanosine was lower in patients on thiopurines for 24 weeks or more (maintenance of remission) compared to patients treated for less than 24 weeks (achievement of remission). Patients on LDAA had higher levels of red-blood cell thioguanine nucleotides than those on AZA, but there was no correlation between these or their methylated metabolites, and incorporated deoxythioguanosine. Transcriptome analysis suggested down-regulation of immune responses consistent with effective immunosuppression in patients receiving LDAA, with evidence for different mechanisms of action between the 2 therapies.

Conclusions:

LDAA is biologically effective despite lower deoxythioguanosine incorporation into DNA, and has different mechanisms of action compared to standard-dose azathioprine.

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