Background : 6-Thioguanine-nucleotides seem to be the active metabolites of thiopurine therapy, and their monitoring has been considered a useful tool for optimizing response in inflammatory bowel diseases. Tioguanine (thioguanine) therapy results in much higher levels of 6-thioguanine-nucleotide levels when compared with azathioprine or mercaptopurine.

Aim : To elucidate the influence of 6-thioguanine-nucleotide and methylated 6-thioguanine-nucleotide levels under tioguanine on efficacy and toxicity in Crohn's disease.

Methods : 6-Thioguanine-nucleotide and methylated 6-tioguanine-nucleotide levels were measured regularly in 26 Crohn's disease patients treated with tioguanine. Nucleotide levels were related to efficacy and toxicity.

Results : 6-Thioguanine-nucleotide levels rose very high [median 1241 pmol/8 × 108 red blood cells (range 313–1853)]. Methylated 6-thioguanine-nucleotide levels were detected in all patients [491 pmol/8 × 108 red blood cells (154–1775)]. 6-Thioguanine-nucleotide and methylated 6-thioguanine-nucleotide concentrations correlated significantly (r = 0.7, P < 0.0001). Nucleotide levels from patients achieving remission (n = 14) did not differ significantly from non-remitters (n = 12) [6-thioguanine-nucleotide: 1077 (599–2160) vs. 1210 (534–4665); methylated 6-thioguanine-nucleotide: 510 (214–1222) vs. 421 (145–1284)]. One patient with intermediate thiopurine S-methyltransferase activity experienced bone marrow toxicity upon dose escalation parallel with excessively high thioguanine-nucleotide levels.

Conclusions : 6-Thioguanine-nucleotide as well as methylated 6-thioguanine-nucleotide levels under tioguanine therapy were not related to efficacy. This suggests that monitoring of 6-thioguanine-nucleotide levels is not a useful tool to predict response to thiopurines.