Short-term administration of disulfiram for reversal of latent HIV infection: a phase 2 dose-escalation study

Lancet HIV. 2015 Dec;2(12):e520-9. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(15)00226-X. Epub 2015 Nov 17.


Background: In vitro, disulfiram activated HIV transcription in a primary T-cell model of HIV latency and in a pilot clinical study increased plasma HIV RNA in individuals with adequate drug exposure. We assessed the effect of disulfiram on HIV transcription in a dose-escalation study.

Methods: In this prospective dose-escalation study, to optimise disulfiram exposure we included adults with HIV on suppressive antiretroviral therapy, with plasma HIV RNA of less than 50 copies per mL and a CD4 cell count greater than 350 cells per μL. Participants were allocated sequentially to one of three dosing groups (500 mg, 1000 mg, and 2000 mg) and received disulfiram daily for 3 days. Only the staff who did laboratory assays were masked to group assignment. The primary endpoint was change in cell-associated unspliced HIV RNA in CD4 cells. The primary analysis method was a negative binomial regression, with the number of copies as the outcome variable and the input total RNA or plasma volume as an exposure variable, which is equivalent to modelling copies or input. We used these models to estimate changes from before disulfiram to timepoints during and after disulfiram administration. This study is registered with, number NCT01944371.

Findings: Of 34 participants screened for eligibility at The Alfred Hospital (Melbourne, VIC, Australia), and San Francisco General Hospital (San Francisco, CA, USA), 30 people were enrolled between Sept 24, 2013, and March 31, 2014. The estimated fold increases in cell-associated unspliced HIV RNA from baseline were 1·7 (95% CI 1·3-2·2; p<0·0001) to the timepoint during disulfiram treatment and 2·1 (1·5-2·9; p<0·0001) to the timepoint after disulfiram in the 500 mg group; 1·9 (1·6-2·4; p<0·0001) and 2·5 (1·9-3·3; p<0·0001) in the 1000 mg group; and 1·6 (1·2-2·1; p=0·0026) and 2·1 (1·5-3·1; p=0·0001) in the 2000 mg group. No deaths occurred, and no serious adverse events were noted. Disulfiram was well tolerated at all doses.

Interpretation: Short-term administration of disulfiram resulted in increases in cell-associated unspliced HIV RNA at all doses, consistent with activating HIV latency. Disulfiram may be suited for future studies of combination and prolonged therapy to activate latent HIV.

Funding: The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR); National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Disulfiram / administration & dosage
  • Disulfiram / pharmacokinetics*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV-1 / drug effects*
  • HIV-1 / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Viral
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Viral Load / drug effects*
  • Virus Latency / drug effects


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents
  • RNA, Viral
  • Disulfiram

Associated data