Monitoring of Thiopurine Metabolites in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease-What Is Actually Measured?

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Azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine are often used in the treatment of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They are prodrugs and undergo a complex metabolism to active and inactive metabolites. Thiopurine treatment is monitored in many laboratories by measuring metabolite concentrations in erythrocytes (red blood cells). The metabolites of interest are not measured directly but as hydrolysis products, which can be produced from several metabolites. The aim of this study was to examine which metabolites are actually measured during routine monitoring. Samples from 18 patients treated with a thiopurine were analyzed by a typical routine high-performance liquid chromatography method for therapeutic drug monitoring and by a newly developed specific method measuring thioguanosine monophosphate (TGMP), thioguanosine diphosphate (TGDP), and thioguanosine triphosphate (TGTP), as well as methylthioinosine monophosphate (meTIMP), and the results were compared. 6-Thioguanine nucleotide (TGN) values detected by the routine method were 69% (range 40%-90%) of the sum of TGMP, TGDP, and TGTP measured by the specific method. TGTP and TGDP contributed 85% (range 78%-90%) and 14% (range 10%-21%) of the TGN total, respectively. Thioguanosine was not found in any patient sample. The concentration of meTIMP obtained by the routine method was 548% of the value obtained by the specific method (range 340%-718%). The difference in TGN measurements between the routine and specific methods can be explained by low hydrolysis efficiency in the routine method, although the most likely explanation for the difference in meTIMP values is that not yet identified metabolites are codetermined in the routine high-performance liquid chromatography method. Concentrations reported as TGN during therapeutic drug monitoring of thiopurine metabolites consist of TGDP and TGTP with a minor contribution of the TGMP. Concentrations reported as meTIMP or methyl mercaptopurine consist in part of meTIMP, but other not yet identified metabolites are codetermined.

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