Therapy for HIV: past, present, and future

Adv Dent Res. 2011 Apr;23(1):23-7. doi: 10.1177/0022034511399082.


Initial therapies for HIV infection comprised nucleoside analogues, but as single or dual agents, they failed to prevent disease progression. When a new class of drug was introduced, the protease inhibitors, an effective triple therapy became possible-namely, highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART. HAART reduced viral replication almost completely and enabled immune system recovery. The probability of classical infections and tumors attributed to HIV were dramatically reduced, and life expectancy correspondingly increased. The initial disadvantages of HAART included the need for strict adherence to prevent drug resistance, the cost that initially precluded their widespread use in the developing world, and the short- and long-term side effects. One of the most disabling long-term complications was HIV lipodystrophy, which in extreme cases lead to severe peripheral fat wasting and central fat gain. In recent years, many of these disadvantages have been addressed: Once-daily drug combinations improve adherence; global access to HAART has been markedly improved; and new drugs enable patients to avoid many of the initial side effects. Future research will determine at what CD4 count HAART should be initiated, and new approaches such as immunotherapeutic HIV vaccines are being tested with the aim to delay or obviate the need for antiretroviral drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active* / adverse effects
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active* / economics
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Developing Countries
  • Drug Combinations
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • HIV-1 / drug effects
  • HIV-Associated Lipodystrophy Syndrome / etiology
  • Humans
  • Zidovudine / therapeutic use


  • Drug Combinations
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors
  • Zidovudine
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase