Pharmacogenetics of thiopurines for inflammatory bowel disease in East Asia: prospects for clinical application of NUDT15 genotyping

Yoichi Kakuta, Yoshitaka Kinouchi, Tooru Shimosegawa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


The thiopurine drugs 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) and azathiopurine (AZA) are widely used to treat inflammatory bowel disease. However, the incidence of adverse reactions is high, particularly in Asia, and the mechanisms of toxicity in Asian populations remain unclear. Thiopurine S-methyltransferase (TPMT) is a well-known enzyme that inactivates AZA or 6-MP through methylation and is one of the few pharmacogenetic predictors used in clinical settings in Western countries. Individuals carrying TPMT-deficient genetic variants require reduced drug doses, but this treatment modification is are not applicable to East Asian populations. Several genes code thiopurine-metabolizing enzymes, including TPMT, multidrug-resistance protein 4, and inosine triphosphatase. These genes have been studied as candidate pharmacogenetic markers; however, it remains unclear why Asian populations seem to be more intolerant than other ethnic groups to a full dose of thiopurines. A genome-wide association approach to identify Asian-specific pharmacogenetic markers in Korean patients with Crohn’s disease revealed that a non-synonymous single nucelotide polymorphism in nucleoside diphosphate-linked moiety X-type motif 15 (NUDT15) which causes p.Arg139Cys was strongly associated with thiopurine-induced early leukopenia. Six common haplotypes of NUDT15 were reported, and five variants showed medium-to-low enzyme activities, compared with the wild haplotype. NUDT15 hydrolyzes the thiopurine active metabolites 6-thio-GTP and 6-thio-dGTP; variants of NUDT15 had lower enzyme activities, causing higher levels of thiopurine active metabolites, resulting in thiopurine-induced leukopenia. In clinical application, NUDT15 genotyping is a good candidate for predicting thiopurine toxicity in East Asian populations. However, the association of NUDT15 diplotypes with thiopurine toxicity remains unclear. Further analyses with large cohorts to confirm the clinical effects of each haplotype are planned.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-180
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of gastroenterology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Feb 1


  • 6-Mercaptopurine
  • Azathiopurine
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • NUDT15
  • Pharmacogenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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