The mechanism of action of 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) on an egg albumin-induced inflammatory lesion in the skin has been studied in rabbits treated with 6-MP in a daily dosage of 18 mg/kg. Relative to control animals, significant decreases in the numbers of large lymphocytes and monocytes in the blood were observed in the 6-MP-treated animals by the 9th day of treatment, without significant decrease in the numbers of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and small and medium lymphocytes. Concurrently, a significant decrease was also seen in the percentage of tissue mononuclear cells in the inflammatory skin lesion. There was a highly significant correlation between the numbers of monocytes in the blood and the per cent of mononuclear cells in the lesion. A mean of 52% of the mononuclear cells in the tissue lesion phagocytosed carbon offering further evidence that the major cell involved was the blood monocyte.
In vitro incorporation of 3H-Tdr by blood mononuclear cells was significantly reduced in the 6-MP-treated animals as determined by scintillation counting and radioautography. The large lymphocyte was the predominant cell type which was labeled in vitro. Small lymphocytes and monocytes were rarely labeled.
The data obtained suggest that the anti-inflammatory effect of 6-MP, reflected in these experiments by a decrease in mononuclear cells in a tissue lesion, results from suppression of a bone marrow response to local inflammation, affecting principally proliferating precursors of blood monocytes and large lymphocytes. The possible importance of this action of 6-MP in the treatment of inflammatory and immunologically mediated disease is discussed.