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Normal thiopurine methyltransferase phenotype testing in a Crohn disease patient with azathioprine induced myelosuppression

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Severe cytopenias in patients with autoimmune conditions treated with azathioprine are well-recognized. Thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) enzymatic activity is subject to individual and ethnic variability. Patients with low TPMT activity (poor metabolizers) are at high risk of developing severe and potentially fatal haematopoietic toxicity. Studies have shown that essentially all TPMT-deficient patients will develop haematopoietic toxicity on administration of conventional thiopurine dosages (6-mercaptopurine, azathioprine). Therefore, screening for TPMT polymorphisms in patients before prescribing thiopurine drugs has been proposed. However, despite normal in vitro enzymatic activity, cytopenia may still occur in vivo. This is the case report of an Asian patient with Crohn disease harbouring a rare TPMT mutation on DNA sequencing, who developed neutropenic sepsis and anaemia after a flare of Crohn disease. The report illustrates the importance of monitoring for cytopenia in the setting of active inflammatory disease despite prior normal phenotyping, the role of predictive pharmacogenetics and the limitations of TPMT phenotype assays that may result in misclassification of at-risk patients.

Keywords: Asian; Crohn disease; azathioprine; enzyme; gene variant; phenotype; polymorphism; thiopurine; thiopurine methyltransferase

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1445-5994.2008.01855.x

Affiliations: 1: Gastroenterology and Liver Services, Concord Hospital, Sydney South West Area Health Service 2: Diversity Health Institute Research Laboratory, Westmead Hospital, Sydney West Area Health Service, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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