Bioavailability of low-dose vs high-dose 6-mercaptopurine

Carola A.S. Arndt, Frank M. Balis, Cynthia Lester McCully, Susan L. Jeffries, Karen Doherty, Robert Murphy, David G. Poplack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The bioavailability of oral 6-mercaptopurine (6MP) at standard doses is very low, largely as a result of extensive first-pass metabolism by xanthine oxidase. Fewer than one third of patients achieve 6MP plasma concentrations known to be cytocidal in vitro (>1 μmol/L). Studies in vitro have suggested that first-pass metabolism can be saturated at higher doses of 6MP. To determine whether saturation occurs in vivo at clinically used doses and whether bioavailability can be enhanced by increasing the dose, the bioavailability of different doses of 6MP was studied first in rhesus monkeys and then in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in remission. In monkeys a higher dose of 6MP resulted in enhanced bioavailability, whereas in patients the mean relative bioavailability at the higher dose was significantly less. However, all patients achieved cytocidal (>1 to 10 μmol/L) plasma concentrations at the higher dose without manifesting significant clinical toxicity. Therefore cytocidal levels of 6MP can be achieved in patients with oral 6MP without the risk of unexpectedly high levels caused by saturation of first-pass metabolism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)588-591
Number of pages4
JournalClinical pharmacology and therapeutics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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