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Mechanism of Action
Mercaptopurine (6-MP) competes with hypoxanthine and guanine for the enzyme hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HGPRTase) and is itself converted to thioinosinic acid (TIMP). This intracellular nucleotide inhibits several reactions involving inosinic acid (IMP), including the conversion of IMP to xanthylic acid (XMP) and the conversion of IMP to adenylic acid (AMP) via adenylosuccinate (SAMP). In addition, 6-methylthioinosinate (MTIMP) is formed by the methylation of TIMP. Both TIMP and MTIMP have been reported to inhibit glutamine-5-phosphoribosylpyrophosphate amidotransferase, the first enzyme unique to the de novo pathway for purine ribonucleotide synthesis. Experiments indicate that radiolabeled mercaptopurine may be recovered from the DNA in the form of deoxythioguanosine. Some mercaptopurine is converted to nucleotide derivatives of 6-thioguanine (6-TG) by the sequential actions of inosinate (IMP) dehydrogenase and xanthylate (XMP) aminase, converting TIMP to thioguanylic acid (TGMP).
Animal tumors that are resistant to mercaptopurine often have lost the ability to convert mercaptopurine to TIMP. However, it is clear that resistance to mercaptopurine may be acquired by other means as well, particularly in human leukemias.
It is not known exactly which of any one or more of the biochemical effects of mercaptopurine and its metabolites are directly or predominantly responsible for cell death.
Clinical studies have shown that the absorption of an oral dose of mercaptopurine in humans is incomplete and variable, averaging approximately 50% of the administered dose. The factors influencing absorption are unknown. Intravenous administration of an investigational preparation of mercaptopurine revealed a plasma half-disappearance time of 21 minutes in pediatric patients and 47 minutes in adults. The volume of distribution usually exceeded that of the total body water.
Following the oral administration of 35S-6-mercaptopurine in one subject, a total of 46% of the dose could be accounted for in the urine (as parent drug and metabolites) in the first 24 hours. There is negligible entry of mercaptopurine into cerebrospinal fluid.
Plasma protein binding averages 19% over the concentration range 10 to 50 mcg/mL (a concentration only achieved by intravenous administration of mercaptopurine at doses exceeding 5 to 10 mg/kg).
Metabolism and Genetic Polymorphism
Variability in mercaptopurine metabolism is one of the major causes of interindividual differences in systemic exposure to the drug and its active metabolites. Mercaptopurine activation occurs via hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyl transferase (HGPRT) and several enzymes to form 6-thioguanine nucleotides (6-TGNs). The cytotoxicity of mercaptopurine is due, in part, to the incorporation of 6-TGN into DNA. Mercaptopurine is inactivated via two major pathways. One is thiol methylation, which is catalyzed by the polymorphic enzyme thiopurine S-methyltransferase (TPMT), to form the inactive metabolite methyl-6-MP. TPMT activity is highly variable in patients because of a genetic polymorphism in the TPMT gene. For Caucasians and African Americans, approximately 0.3% (1:300) of patients have two non-functional alleles (homozygous-deficient) of the TPMT gene and have little or no detectable enzyme activity. Approximately 10% of patients have one TPMT non-functional allele (heterozygous) leading to low or intermediate TPMT activity and 90% of individuals have normal TPMT activity with two functional alleles. Homozygous-deficient patients (two non-functional alleles), if given usual doses of mercaptopurine, accumulate excessive cellular concentrations of active thioguanine nucleotides predisposing them to PURINETHOL toxicity (see WARNINGS and PRECAUTIONS). Heterozygous patients with low or intermediate TPMT activity accumulate higher concentrations of active thioguanine nucleotides than people with normal TPMT activity and are more likely to experience mercaptopurine toxicity (see WARNINGS and PRECAUTIONS). TPMT genotyping or phenotyping (red blood cell TPMT activity) can identify patients who are homozygous deficient or have low or intermediate TPMT activity (see WARNINGS, PRECAUTIONS, Laboratory Tests, and DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION sections).
Another inactivation pathway is oxidation, which is catalyzed by xanthine oxidase (XO) and forms 6-thiouric acid. Xanthine oxidase is inhibited by ZYLOPRIM® (allopurinol). Concomitant use of allopurinol with mercaptopurine decreases the catabolism of mercaptopurine and its active metabolites leading to mercaptopurine toxicity. A reduction in mercaptopurine dosage is therefore required if patients are receiving both mercaptopurine and allopurinol (see PRECAUTIONS and DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION).
After oral administration of 35S-6-mercaptopurine, urine contains intact mercaptopurine, thiouric acid (formed by direct oxidation by xanthine oxidase, probably via 6-mercapto-8-hydroxypurine), and a number of 6-methylated thiopurines.
Last reviewed on RxList: 2/2/2017
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.
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