Current status of the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors of human immunodeficiency virus type 1

Curr Top Med Chem. 2004;4(9):921-44. doi: 10.2174/1568026043388420.


Almost fifteen years ago, the first non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitor (NNRTI) lead compounds have been discovered. Nowadays, three NNRTIs are approved for treatment of HIV-1-infected individuals and several others are subject of (advanced) clinical trials. Although the NNRTIs target HIV-1 RT, they are clearly different from the nucleoside RT inhibitors (NRTIs). They are highly selective for HIV-1 and do not inhibit HIV-2 or any other (retro)virus. They target HIV-1 RT by a direct interaction without the need to be metabolised by cellular enzymes, and they interact at a site on the HIV-1 RT that is near to, but distant from, the substrate-binding site. The majority of NNRTIs share common conformational properties and structural features that let them fit in a hydrophobic pocket at the HIV-1 RT, which is nowadays well-characterized. A wide variety of crystal structures of RT complexed with NNRTIs have been obtained. They provide detailed insights in the molecular interaction of the NNRTIs with the amino acids lining the pocket in HIV-1 RT. Due to their unprecedented specificity, the NNRTIs are relatively non-toxic in cell culture, and the most potent compounds reach selectivity indices that exceed 100,000 or more. However, inherent to their high specificity, the NNRTIs easily select for mutant virus strains with several degrees of drug resistance. The first-generation NNRTIs such as nevirapine and delavirdine easily loose their inhibitory potential against mutant virus strains that contain single amino acid mutations in their RT. The second-generation NNRTIs such as efavirenz, capravirine and etravirine [corrected] usually require two or more mutations in the HIV-1 RT before significantly decreasing their antiviral potency. Evidently, it requires a markedly longer time period to obtain significant resistance against second-generation NNRTIs. The resistance spectrum of NNRTIs is entirely different from the NRTI resistance spectrum, and, as a rule, NRTI-resistant mutant virus strains keep full sensitivity to the inhibitory effects of NNRTIs, and vice versa NNRTI-resistant and mutant virus strains keep full sensitivity to the inhibitory effects of NRTIs. NNRTIs have proven beneficial when included in drug combination (triple or quadruple) therapy, preferably in the presence of protease inhibitors and NRTIs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents* / adverse effects
  • Anti-HIV Agents* / chemistry
  • Anti-HIV Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance, Viral
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / enzymology
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase / genetics
  • HIV-1 / drug effects*
  • HIV-1 / enzymology
  • HIV-1 / genetics
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors* / adverse effects
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors* / chemistry
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors* / therapeutic use
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase