Antiretroviral neurotoxicity

J Neurovirol. 2012 Oct;18(5):388-99. doi: 10.1007/s13365-012-0120-3. Epub 2012 Jul 19.


Combination antiretroviral therapy (CART) has proven to effectively suppress systemic HIV burden, however, poor penetration into the central nervous system (CNS) provides incomplete protection. Although the severity of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) has been reduced, neurological disease is expected to exert an increasing burden as HIV-infected patients live longer. Strategies to enhance penetration of antiretroviral compounds into the CNS could help to control HIV replication in this reservoir but also carries an increased risk of neurotoxicity. Efforts to target antiretroviral compounds to the CNS will have to balance these risks against the potential gain. Unfortunately, little information is available on the actions of antiretroviral compounds in the CNS, particularly at concentrations that provide effective virus suppression. The current studies evaluated the direct effects of 15 antiretroviral compounds on neurons to begin to provide basic neurotoxicity data that will serve as a foundation for the development of dosing and drug selection guidelines. Using sensitive indices of neural damage, we found a wide range of toxicities, with median toxic concentrations ranging from 2 to 10,000 ng/ml. Some toxic concentrations overlapped concentrations currently seen in the CSF but the level of toxicity was generally modest at clinically relevant concentrations. Highest neurotoxicities were associated with abacavir, efavarenz, etravirine, nevaripine, and atazanavir, while the lowest were with darunavir, emtracitabine, tenofovir, and maraviroc. No additive effects were seen with combinations used clinically. These data provide initial evidence useful for the development of treatment strategies that might reduce the risk of antiretroviral neurotoxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-HIV Agents / toxicity*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide / pharmacology
  • Drug Interactions
  • Fetus / cytology
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Biomarkers
  • MAP2 protein, rat
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide