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Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2012 May;35(10):1181-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2012.05084.x. Epub 2012 Apr 4.

High TPMT enzyme activity does not explain drug resistance due to preferential 6-methylmercaptopurine production in patients on thiopurine treatment.

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Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Gastroenterology, Christchurch Hospital, New Zealand.



Up to 20% of patients on thiopurine therapy fail to achieve adequate drug response. Many of these patients preferentially produce the toxic 6-methylmercaptopurine metabolites (6-MMP) rather than the active 6-thioguanine nucleotides (6-TGN) resulting in a high 6-MMP/6-TGN ratio (>20) and increased risk of hepatotoxicity.


To determine the prevalence of preferential 6-MMP producers and define the relationships between 6-TGN, 6-MMP and thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT).


The database of 6-TGN, 6-MMP and TPMT measurements from patients throughout New Zealand was used to calculate patients' 6-MMP/6-TGN ratios and identify those with high (>20) or normal ratio (≤20).The TPMT enzyme activity was compared amongst the groups.


Of 1879 patients with TPMT, 6-TGN and 6-MMP results, 349 (19%) had a 6-MMP/6-TGN ratio >20. The mean TPMT enzyme activity was slightly lower for those with a 6-MMP/6-TGN ratio ≤20 vs. >20, which achieved statistical significance (12.2 vs. 13.2; P < 0.001). However, the distributions of TPMT enzyme activity were similar, with 97% of TPMT results falling between 5.0 and 17.6 IU/mL for both groups. In all, 17% of those with 6-MMP/6-TGN ratio ≤20 were intermediate TPMT metabolisers (TPMT 5.0-9.2 IU/mL) vs. 7% in those with a ratio >20.


In this patient population with measured 6-MMP/6-TGN ratios, 19% of patients were preferential 6-MMP producers. The results show that high TPMT enzyme activity is not the major reason for preferential 6-MMP production in most patients with a high metabolite ratio. This suggests that there are one or more important alternative mechanisms for preferentially producing 6-MMP.

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