Anti-HIV drugs nevirapine and efavirenz affect anxiety-related behavior and cognitive performance in mice

Neurotox Res. 2011 Jan;19(1):73-80. doi: 10.1007/s12640-009-9141-y. Epub 2009 Dec 10.


Nevirapine (NVP) and efavirenz (EFV) belong to the class of anti-HIV drugs called non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), commonly used as part of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Although the HAART is able to bring down viral load to undetectable levels and restore immune function, their prolonged use causes several adverse effects. It has been demonstrated that both NVP and EFV are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, causing important central nervous system-related side effects. Thus, this study investigated the effects of chronic administration of EFV (10 mg/kg) and NVP (3.3 mg/kg) in mice submitted to two distinct series of experiments, which aimed to evaluate: (1) the emotional behavior (elevated plus-maze, forced swimming, and open-field test) and (2) the cognitive performance (object recognition and inhibitory avoidance test) of mice. Our results demonstrated that EFV, but not NVP, reduced the exploration to open arms in the elevated plus-maze test. Neither NVP nor EFV altered mouse behavior in the forced swimming and open-field tests. Both drugs reduced the recognition index in the object recognition test, but only EFV significantly impaired the aversive memory assessed in the inhibitory avoidance test 24 h after training. In conclusion, our findings point to a genuine anxiogenic-like effect to EFV, since it reduced exploration to open arms of elevated plus-maze test without affecting spontaneous locomotion. Additionally, both drugs impaired recognition memory, while only the treatment with EFV impaired significantly aversive memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alkynes
  • Animals
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / toxicity
  • Anxiety / chemically induced*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Benzoxazines / pharmacology*
  • Benzoxazines / toxicity
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cyclopropanes
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Nevirapine / pharmacology*
  • Nevirapine / toxicity


  • Alkynes
  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Benzoxazines
  • Cyclopropanes
  • Nevirapine
  • efavirenz