Background: Pharmacokinetic interactions involving antiretroviral therapies may critically influence the efficacy and toxicity of these drugs, as well as pharmacologic treatments of coincident or complicating diseases. The viral protease inhibitor ritonavir is of particular concern since it both inhibits and induces the activity of cytochrome P450 3A (CYP3A) isoforms.
Methods: The inhibitory effect of ritonavir on the metabolism of alprazolam, a CYP3A-mediated reaction in humans, was tested in vitro using human liver microsomes. In a double-blind clinical study, volunteer subjects received 1.0 mg of alprazolam concurrent with low-dose ritonavir (four doses of 200 mg) or with placebo.
Results: Ritonavir was a potent in vitro inhibitor of alprazolam hydroxylation. The 50% inhibitory concentration was 0.11 micromol/L (0.08 microg/mL); this is below the usual therapeutic plasma concentration range (generally exceeding 2 microg/mL). In the clinical study, ritonavir reduced alprazolam clearance to 41% of control values (P < .001), prolonged elimination half-life (mean values, 30 versus 13 hours; P < .005), and magnified benzodiazepine agonist effects such as sedation and performance impairment.
Conclusion: Consistent with in vitro results, administration of low doses of ritonavir for a short duration of time resulted in large impairment of alprazolam clearance and enhancement of clinical effects. Removal from product labeling of a warning against coadministration of ritonavir and alprazolam was based on a previous study only of extended exposure to ritonavir, in which CYP3A induction offset inhibition. Kinetic interactions involving antiretroviral therapies may be complex and time dependent. Product labeling should reflect this complexity.