Azathioprine metabolite measurement for Autoimmune Hepatitis

While obtaining azathioprine (AZA) metabolite levels in inflammatory bowel disease has proven clinical utility, there is less data with regard to autoimmune hepatitis (AIH).  Now a study of 70 adults with AIH reports that therapeutic levels of 6-thioguanine (TGN) (>220 pmol/8 x 10 to the 8th) are associated with remission (Hepatology 2012; 56: 1401-8).

Patients in this study had an average age of 61 years; the average participant had a diagnosis of AIH for 8 years at the start of the study. For induction of remission, patients had received a combination of prednisolone along with AZA.  AZA was started at 1 mg/kg/day and gradually increased to 2 mg/kg/day.  All patients had a complete response to steroids prior to AZA dose escalation.

Outcome from this study was characterized by ability to maintain remission with ALT <33 IU/L and/or relapse which was indicated by ALT >2 x ULN (upper limit of normal) or liver histology showing active disease.

Serial measurements of red blood cell TGN and methylmercaptopurine nucleotides (MeMPNs) were obtained over two years.


  • 53 patients maintained remission and 17 did not.
  • Those in remission tended to be receiving lower doses of AZA (1.7 vs 2 mg/kg/day) but had higher average TGN levels (237 vs 177 pmol/8 x 10 to the 8th)
  • TGN levels >220 pmol/8 x 10 to the 8th best predicted remission
  • There was no measurable difference in thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) activity between the two groups (remission vs relapse).
  • Two patients developed cholestasis and this was associated with high MeMPN levels.

The authors note that several previous studies did not demonstrate a relationship between TGN levels and efficacy.  This is likely related to patient selection (all in remission at start in current study), repeated TGN levels, and the definition of remission.

Conclusion: Obtaining metabolites in adherent patients may be beneficial in patients with active disease to assist with dose modification and in individuals with potential AZA toxicity.

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3 thoughts on “Azathioprine metabolite measurement for Autoimmune Hepatitis

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