Objective - To determine pharmacokinetics of azathioprine (AZA) and clinical, hematologic, and serologic effects of IV and oral administration of AZA in horses. Animals - 6 horses. Procedure - In study phase 1, a single dose of AZA was administered IV (1.5 mg/kg) or orally (3.0 mg/kg) to 6 horses, with at least 1 week between treatments. Blood samples were collected for AZA and 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) analysis 1 hour before and at predetermined time points up to 4 hours after AZA administration. In study phase 2, AZA was administered orally (3 mg/kg) every 24 hours for 30 days and then every 48 hours for 30 days. Throughout study phase 2, blood samples were collected for CBC determination and serum biochemical analysis. Results - Plasma concentrations of AZA and its metabolite, 6-MP decreased rapidly from plasma following IV administration of AZA, consistent with the short mean elimination half-life of 1.8 minutes. Oral bioavailability of AZA was low, ranging from 1% to 7%. No horses had abnormalities on CBC determination or serum biochemical analysis, other than 1 horse that was lymphopenic on day 5 and 26 of daily treatment. This horse developed facial alopecia from which 1 colony of a Trichophyton sp was cultured; alopecia resolved within 1 month after the study ended. Conclusions and clinical relevance - Overall, no adverse effects were observed with long-term oral administration of AZA to horses, although 1 horse did have possible evidence of immunosuppression with chronic treatment. Further investigation of the clinical efficacy of AZA in the treatment of autoimmune diseases in horses is warranted.
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