Thiopurine methyltransferase catalyzes the S-methylation of azathioprine (AZA), 6-mercapto-purine (6-MP) and thioguanine, medications widely used to treat malignancies, rheumatic diseases, dermatologic conditions, inflammatory bowel disease and solid organ transplant rejection. TPMT activity exhibits a genetic polymorphism in 10% of Caucasians, with 1/300 individuals having complete deficiency. Patients with intermediate or deficient TPMT activity are at risk for excessive toxicity, including fatal myelosuppression, after receiving standard doses of thiopurine medications. The molecular basis for low TPMT activity has been elucidated, leading to the development of assays for the three signature mutations, which account for the majority of mutant alleles. TPMT genotype is correlated with erythrocyte and leukemia blast cell TPMT activity and associated with a risk of toxicity after thiopurine therapy. Recent studies defined target starting doses for mercaptopurine based on TPMT genotypes. This polymorphism is one of the best models for the translation of genomic information to guide patient therapeutics.
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