Oropharyngeal candidiasis is one of the first and most commonly reported opportunistic infections of untreated AIDS patients. With the introduction of the new antiviral HAART therapy, including HIV protease inhibitors, this mucocutaneous infection is nowadays only rarely observed in treated patients. It was recently shown that HIV protease inhibitors have a direct attenuating effect on Candida albicans secreted aspartic proteinases (Saps), an investigation prompted by the fact that both Sap and HIV protease belong to the superfamily of aspartic proteinases and by the observation that mucocutaneous infections sometimes resolve even in the absence of an immunological improvement of the host. As these Saps are important fungal virulence factors and play a key role in adhesion to human epithelial cells we tried to assess the effect of the HIV protease inhibitors Ritonavir, Indinavir and Saquinavir on fungal adhesion to these cells. The effect on phagocytosis by polymorphonuclear leukocytes was also assessed. Ritonavir was found to be the most potent inhibitor of fungal adhesion. A dose-dependent inhibition of adhesion to epithelial cells was found already at 0.8 microM and was significant at 4 microM or higher, at 500 microM the inhibition was about 55%. Indinavir and Saquinavir inhibited significantly at 4 microM or 20 microM, respectively; at 500 microM the inhibition was 30% or 50%. In contrast, no protease inhibitor was able to modulate phagocytosis of Candida by polymorphonuclear leukocytes. In conclusion, inhibition of Saps by HIV protease inhibitors may directly help to ease the resolution of mucosal candidiasis. In future, derivatives of HIV protease inhibitors, being more specific for the fungal Saps, may form an alternative in the treatment of mucosal candidiasis insensitive to currently available antimycotics.