Implications of efavirenz for neuropsychiatry: a review

Int J Neurosci. 2010 Dec;120(12):739-45. doi: 10.3109/00207454.2010.520541. Epub 2010 Oct 22.


Antiretroviral therapy has revolutionized the treatment of the human immunodeficiency virus because it has improved the clinical outcomes of patients. It is essential that these drugs cross the blood-brain barrier, since the virus is present in the central nervous system (CNS). Efavirenz passes through this barrier satisfactorily and can reduce the deleterious central effects of the human immunodeficiency virus. However, patients treated with efavirenz have been observed to experience psychiatric symptoms such as mania, depression, suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and hallucinations. The aim of this review is to describe the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of efavirenz and its major neuropsychiatric symptoms and the neurochemical pathways associated with these changes in the CNS. The databases Medline and Lilacs were used to search for review articles and preclinical and clinical research articles published from January 1996 to 2010. The search terms used were efavirenz, central nervous system, neuropsychiatry, neurotransmitters, adverse effects, and neurochemistry. Subject categories considered included effects on viral replication, pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of efavirenz, and neuropsychiatric adverse effects including time course, duration, and probable mechanisms involved. The mechanisms involved in these changes include interference with cytochrome P450 enzymes, cytokines, tryptophan-2-3-dioxygenase, and brain creatine kinase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • AIDS Dementia Complex / drug therapy*
  • Alkynes
  • Anti-HIV Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Benzoxazines / adverse effects*
  • Benzoxazines / chemistry
  • Benzoxazines / pharmacokinetics
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / enzymology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cyclopropanes
  • Humans
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / enzymology
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / physiopathology


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