Thiopurine drugs azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine inhibit Mycobacterium paratuberculosis growth in vitro

Jae Shin Sung, Michael T. Collins

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64 Citations (Scopus)


The in vitro susceptibility of human- and bovine-origin Mycobacterium paratuberculosis to the thioupurine drugs 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) and azathioprine (AZA) was established using conventional plate counting methods and the MGIT 960 ParaTB culture system. Both 6-MP and AZA had antibacterial activity against M. paratuberculosis; isolates from Crohn's disease patients tended to be more susceptible than were bovine-origin isolates. Isolates of Mycobacterium avium, used as controls, were generally resistant to both AZA and 6-MP, even at high concentrations (≥64.0 μg/ml). Among rapidly growing mycobacteria, Mycobacterium phlei was susceptible to 6-MP and AZA whereas Mycobacterium smegmatis strains were not. AZA and 6-MP limited the growth of, but did not kill, M. paratuberculosis in a dose-dependent manner. Anti-inflammatory drugs in the sulfonamide family (sulfapyridine, sulfasalazine, and 5-aminosalycilic acid [mesalamine]) had little or no antibacterial activity against M. paratuberculosis. The conventional antibiotics azithromycin and ciprofloxacin, used as control drugs, were bactericidal for M. paratuberculosis, exerting their killing effects on the organism relatively quickly. Simultaneous exposure of M. paratuberculosis to 6-MP and ciprofloxacin resulted in significantly higher CFU than use of ciprofloxacin alone. These data may partially explain the paradoxical response of Crohn's disease patients infected with M. paratuberculosis to treatment with immunosuppressive thiopurine drugs, i.e., they do not worsen with anti-inflammatory treatment as would be expected with a microbiological etiologic pathogen. These findings also should influence the design of therapeutic trials to evaluate antibiotic treatments of Crohn's disease: AZA drugs may confound interpretation of data on therapeutic responses for both antibiotic-treated and control groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-426
Number of pages9
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Feb

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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