Analytical Pitfalls of Therapeutic Drug Monitoring of Thiopurines in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Abstract

The use of thiopurines in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be optimized by the application of therapeutic drug monitoring. In this procedure, 6-thioguanine nucleotides (6-TGN) and 6-methylmercaptopurine (6-MMP) metabolites are monitored and related to therapeutic response and adverse events, respectively. Therapeutic drug monitoring of thiopurines, however, is hampered by several analytical limitations resulting in an impaired translation of metabolite levels to clinical outcome in IBD. Thiopurine metabolism is cell specific and requires nucleated cells and particular enzymes for 6-TGN formation. In the current therapeutic drug monitoring, metabolite levels are assessed in erythrocytes, whereas leukocytes are considered the main target cells of these drugs. Furthermore, currently used methods do not distinguish between active nucleotides and their unwanted residual products. Last, there is a lack of a standardized laboratorial procedure for metabolite assessment regarding the substantial instability of erythrocyte 6-TGN. To improve thiopurine therapy in patients with IBD, it is necessary to understand these limitations and recognize the general misconceptions in this procedure.

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