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Ann Intern Med. 1997 Apr 15;126(8):608-14.

Molecular diagnosis of thiopurine S-methyltransferase deficiency: genetic basis for azathioprine and mercaptopurine intolerance.

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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee 38105-2794, USA.



Thiopurine S-methyltransferase (TPMT) catalyzes the S-methylation (that is, inactivation) of mercaptopurine, azathioprine, and thioguanine and exhibits genetic polymorphism. About 10% of patients have intermediate TPMT activity because of heterozygosity, and about 1 in 300 inherit TPMT deficiency as an autosomal recessive trait. If they receive standard doses of thiopurine medications (for example, 75 mg/m2 body surface area per day), TPMT-deficient patients accumulate excessive thioguanine nucleotides in hematopoietic tissues, which leads to severe and possibly fatal myelosuppression.


To elucidate the genetic basis and develop molecular methods for the diagnosis of TPMT deficiency and heterozygosity.


Diagnostic test evaluation.


Research hospital.


The TPMT phenotype was determined in 282 unrelated white persons, and TPMT genotype was determined in all persons who had intermediate TPMT activity (heterozygotes) and a randomly selected, equal number of persons who had high activity. In addition, genotype was determined in 6 TPMT-deficient patients.


Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays were developed to detect the G238C transversion in TPMT*2 and the G460A and A719G transitions in TPMT*3 alleles. Radiochemical assay was used to measure TPMT activity. Mutations of TPMT were identified in genomic DNA, and the concordance of TPMT genotype and phenotype was determined.


21 patients who had a heterozygous phenotype were identified (7.4% of sample [95% CI, 4.7% to 11.2%]). TPMT*3A was the most prevalent mutant allele (18 of 21 mutant alleles in heterozygotes; 85%); TPMT*2 and TPMT*3C were more rare (about 5% each). All 6 patients who had TPMT deficiency had two mutant alleles, 20 of 21 patients (95% [CI, 76% to 99.9%]) who had intermediate TPMT activity had one mutant allele, and 21 of 21 patients (100% [CI, 83% to 100%]) who had high activity had no known TPMT mutation. Detection of TPMT mutations in genomic DNA by PCR coincided perfectly with genotypes detected by complementary DNA sequencing.


The major inactivating mutations at the human TPMT locus have been identified and can be reliably detected by PCR-based methods, which show an excellent concordance between genotype and phenotype. The detection of TPMT mutations provides a molecular diagnostic method for prospectively identifying TPMT-deficient and heterozygous patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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