Azathioprine Has a Deleterious Effect on the Bone Health of Mice with DSS-Induced Inflammatory Bowel Disease

S Morgan, KM Hooper, EM Milne, C Farquharson, C Stevens, KA Staines

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    Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often present poor bone health and are 40% more at risk of bone fracture. Studies have implicated autophagy in IBD pathology and drugs used to treat IBD stimulate autophagy in varying degrees, however, their effect on the skeleton is currently unknown. Here, we have utilised the dextran sulphate sodium (DSS) model of colitis in mice to examine the effects of the thiopurine drug azathioprine on the skeleton. Ten-week-old male mice (n = 6/group) received 3.0% DSS in their drinking water for four days, followed by a 14-day recovery period. Mice were treated with 10 mg/kg/day azathioprine or vehicle control. Histopathological analysis of the colon from DSS mice revealed significant increases in scores for inflammation severity, extent, and crypt damage (p < 0.05). Azathioprine provided partial protection to the colon, as reflected by a lack of significant difference in crypt damage and tissue regeneration with DSS treatment. MicroCT of vehicle-treated DSS mice revealed azathioprine treatment had a significant detrimental effect on the trabecular bone microarchitecture, independent of DSS treatment. Specifically, significant decreases were observed in bone volume/tissue volume (p < 0.01), and trabecular number (p < 0.05), with a concurrent significant increase in trabecular pattern factor (p < 0.01). Immunohistochemical labelling for LC3 revealed azathioprine to induce autophagy in the bone marrow. Together these data suggest that azathioprine treatment may have a deleterious effect on IBD patients who may already be at increased risk of osteoporotic bone fractures and thus will inform on future treatment strategies for patient stratification.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number6085
    JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
    Issue number23
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2019

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited


    • Autophagy
    • Azathioprine
    • Bone
    • Colitis
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Osteoporosis


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