Pharmacokinetics and potential interactions amongst antiretroviral agents used to treat patients with HIV infection

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1999 Apr;36(4):289-304. doi: 10.2165/00003088-199936040-00004.


There are 3 groups of drugs available for the treatment of patients with HIV disease. These are the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors ('nucleoside analogues') [zidovudine, didanosine, zalcitabine, lamivudine and abacavir]; the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (nevirapine, delavirdine and efavirenz); and the protease inhibitors (saquinavir, ritonavir, indinavir, nelfinavir and amprenavir). The preferred initial regimen should reduce and maintain plasma HIV RNA below the level of detection. Presently, the regimen of choice consists of 2 nucleoside analogues plus a protease inhibitor with high in vivo efficacy. An alternative combination consists of 2 nucleoside analogues plus a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor. Drug interactions are one of the major problems associated with these multidrug regimens. Changes in plasma concentrations of the nucleoside analogues are unlikely to be of clinical relevance as drug effect is mainly dependent on the rate and extent of intracellular phosphorylation. Combinations of zidovudine plus stavudine, and probably zalcitabine plus lamivudine, should be avoided as competition for phosphorylating enzymes may occur. The antiviral efficacy of some nucleoside analogues, e.g. stavudine, may be compromised by prior treatment with other nucleosides (e.g. zidovudine). However, these data need to be clarified in further studies. It is unlikely that administration of other antiretrovirals will influence the activity of nucleoside analogues. Protease inhibitors are metabolised by hepatic cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A4. Combination protease inhibitor therapy can result in drug interactions mediated by enzyme inhibition. Ritonavir is the most potent inhibitor, saquinavir the least. The protease inhibitors also interact with the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. Nevirapine and efavirenz induce drug metabolising enzymes and may reduce plasma concentrations of protease inhibitors. A study in healthy volunteers showed that nelfinavir concentrations are increased by combination with efavirenz. Delavirdine inhibits drug metabolising enzymes and increases the plasma concentration of coadministered protease inhibitors. The nucleoside analogues would not be expected to interact with the protease inhibitors. Apart from the ability of didanosine to reduce the area under the concentration-time curve of delavirdine, there are no reports of clinically significant interactions of other antiretrovirals with the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. Triple therapy is the current standard of care for patients with HIV disease. However, studies of quadruple therapy are already under way. Drug interactions are likely to remain one of the major considerations when selecting a therapeutic regimen for patients with HIV.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / adverse effects
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Interactions
  • HIV Infections / blood
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics*
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors / therapeutic use


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Drug Combinations
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors