Terbinafine: a review of its use in onychomycosis in adults

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(1):39-65. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200304010-00005.


Terbinafine, an orally and topically active antimycotic agent, inhibits the biosynthesis of the principal sterol in fungi, ergosterol, at the level of squalene epoxidase. Squalene epoxidase inhibition results in ergosterol-depleted fungal cell membranes (fungistatic effect) and the toxic accumulation of intracellular squalene (fungicidal effect). Terbinafine has demonstrated excellent fungicidal activity against the dermatophytes and variable activity against yeasts and non-dermatophyte molds in vitro. Following oral administration, terbinafine is rapidly absorbed and widely distributed to body tissues including the poorly perfused nail matrix. Nail terbinafine concentrations are detected within 1 week after starting therapy and persist for at least 30 weeks after the completion of treatment. Randomized, double-blind trials showed oral terbinafine 250 mg/day for 12 or 16 weeks was more efficacious than itraconazole, fluconazole and griseofulvin in dermatophyte onychomycosis of the toenails. In particular, at 72 weeks' follow-up, the multicenter, multinational, L.I.ON. (Lamisil vs Itraconazole in ONychomycosis) study found that mycologic cure rates (76 vs 38% of patients after 12 weeks' treatment; 81 vs 49% of recipients after 16 weeks' therapy) and complete cure rates were approximately twice as high after terbinafine treatment than after itraconazole (3 or 4 cycles of 400 mg/day for 1 week repeated every 4 weeks) in patients with toenail mycosis. Furthermore, the L.I.ON. Icelandic Extension study demonstrated that terbinafine was more clinically effective than intermittent itraconazole to a statistically significant extent at 5-year follow-up. Terbinafine produced a superior complete cure rate (35 vs 14%), mycologic cure rate (46 vs 13%) and clinical cure rate (42 vs 18%) to that of itraconazole. The mycologic and clinical relapse rates were 23% and 21% in the terbinafine group, respectively, compared with 53% and 48% in the itraconazole group. In comparative clinical trials, oral terbinafine had a better tolerability profile than griseofulvin and a comparable profile to that of itraconazole or fluconazole. Post marketing surveillance confirmed terbinafine's good tolerability profile. Adverse events were experienced by 10.5% of terbinafine recipients, with gastrointestinal complaints being the most common. Unlike the azoles, terbinafine has a low potential for drug-drug interactions. Most pharmacoeconomic evaluations have shown that the greater clinical effectiveness of oral terbinafine in dermatophyte onychomycosis translates into a cost-effectiveness ratio superior to that of itraconazole, fluconazole and griseofulvin.

Conclusion: Oral terbinafine has demonstrated greater effectiveness than itraconazole, fluconazole and griseofulvin in randomized trials involving patients with onychomycosis caused by dermatophytes. The drug is generally well tolerated and has a low potential for drug interactions. Therefore, terbinafine is the treatment of choice for dermatophyte onychomycosis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents / economics
  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antifungal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthrodermataceae / drug effects
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Itraconazole / therapeutic use
  • Mitosporic Fungi / drug effects
  • Naphthalenes / economics
  • Naphthalenes / pharmacokinetics
  • Naphthalenes / therapeutic use*
  • Onychomycosis / drug therapy*
  • Terbinafine
  • Yeasts / drug effects


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Naphthalenes
  • Itraconazole
  • Terbinafine