Background: Substantial hematologic toxicity limits the use of azathioprine.
Objective: To evaluate 1) polymorphic inactivation of azathioprine by thiopurine methyltransferase and 2) clinical toxicity.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Two rheumatology units.
Patients: 67 patients for whom azathioprine was prescribed as second-line therapy for rheumatic disease.
Measurements: Polymerase chain reaction-based assays were used to detect mutations in thiopurine methyltransferase. The primary end point was discontinuation of azathioprine therapy because of toxicity.
Results: Six of 67 patients (9%) were heterozygous for mutant thiopurine methyltransferase alleles. Five of the 6 patients discontinued therapy within 1 month of starting treatment because of low leukocyte counts. The sixth patient did not adhere to treatment. Patients with wild-type thiopurine methyltransferase alleles received therapy longer than did patients with mutant alleles (median duration of therapy, 39 weeks [range, 6 to 180 weeks] and 2 weeks [range, 2 to 4 weeks], respectively; P = 0.018).
Conclusion: Analysis of thiopurine methyltransferase genotype is a quick way to identify patients at risk for acute toxicity from azathioprine.