Early Assessment of Thiopurine Metabolites Identifies Patients at Risk of Thiopurine-induced Leukopenia in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Background and aims:

Only a quarter of thiopurine-induced myelotoxicity in inflammatory bowel disease [IBD] patients is related to thiopurine S-methyltransferase deficiency. We determined the predictive value of 6-thioguanine nucleotide [6-TGN] and 6-methylmercaptopurine ribonucleotide [6-MMPR] concentrations 1 week after initiation [T1] for development of leukopenia during the first 8 weeks of thiopurine treatment.


The study was performed in IBD patients starting thiopurine therapy as part of the Dutch randomized controlled TOPIC trial [ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00521950]. Blood samples for metabolite measurement were collected at T1. Leukopenia was defined by leukocyte counts of <3.0 × 109/L. For comparison, patients without leukopenia who completed the 8 weeks on the stable dose were selected from the first 272 patients of the TOPIC trial.


Thirty-two patients with, and 162 patients without leukopenia were analysed. T1 threshold 6-TGN concentrations of 213 pmol/8 × 108 erythrocytes and 3525 pmol/8 × 108 erythrocytes for 6-MMPR were defined: patients exceeding these values were at increased leukopenia risk (odds ratio [OR] 6.2 [95% CI: 2.8–13.8] and 5.9 [95% CI: 2.7–13.3], respectively). Leukopenia rates were higher in patients treated with mercaptopurine, compared with azathioprine (OR 7.3 [95% CI: 3.1–17.0]), and concurrent anti-TNF therapy (OR 5.1 [95% CI: 1.6–16.4]). Logistic regression analysis of thiopurine type, threshold concentrations, and concurrent anti-tumour necrosis factor [TNF] therapy revealed that elevations of both T1 6-TGN and 6-MMPR resulted in the highest risk for leukopenia, followed by exceeding only the T1 6-MMPR or 6-TGN threshold concentration (area under the curve 0.84 [95% CI: 0.76–0.92]).


In ~80% of patients, leukopenia could be explained by T1 6-TGN and/or 6-MMPR elevations. Validation of the predictive model is needed before implementing in clinical practice.

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