Relationship between red blood cell thiopurine methyltransferase activity and myelotoxicity in dogs receiving azathioprine

Damon B. Rodriguez, Andrew Mackin, Roger Easley, Carolyn R. Boyle, Weiying Hou, Cory Langston, Amy M. Walsh, Michael A. Province, Howard L. McLeod

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22 Scopus citations


Thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) produces inactive metabolites of azathioprine and, in humans, has a variable amount of activity. Humans with low TPMT activity commonly develop myelotoxicity when receiving azathioprine. Our study sought to characterize the distribution of TPMT activity in a population of dogs and to determine whether the pretreatment knowledge of red blood cell (RBC) TPMT activity could predict myelotoxicity in dogs receiving azathioprine. RBC TPMT activity was measured in 299 healthy dogs, and 9 dogs that represented a wide range of enzyme activity received azathioprine at a standard therapeutic dose for 30 days. TPMT activity in healthy dogs was log normally distributed and varied over an approximately 7-fold range. Geometric mean, minimum, and maximum RBC TPMT activities were 37.1, 16.3, and 115 nmol per gram of hemoglobin (gHb) per hour, respectively. TPMT deficiency was not identified. Two populations of TPMT activity in dogs were detected by statistical modeling (commingling analysis). Dogs with intermediate TPMT activity (14-38 nmol/gHb/h) receiving azathioprine had significantly lower neutrophil counts during week 4 than during weeks 0-3, whereas those with high activity (>39 nmol/gHb/h) did not have a significant change in neutrophil count. An analysis of TPMT activity in 6 dogs with a history of azathioprine-associated myelotoxicity in a clinical setting revealed either intermediate or high TPMT enzyme activity in all dogs, suggesting that TPMT activity, as measured in RBCs, is not the sole cause of severe azathioprine-associated myelosuppression in dogs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-345
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2004


  • Myelosuppression
  • Neutropenia
  • Population survey
  • Toxicity


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