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Antivir Ther. 2012;17(4):669-78. doi: 10.3851/IMP2039. Epub 2012 Jan 25.

Ritonavir-induced lipoatrophy and dyslipidaemia is reversed by the anti-inflammatory drug leflunomide in a PPAR-γ-dependent manner.

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Dipartimento di Medicina Clinica e Sperimentale, Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia, University of Perugia, S. Andrea delle Fratte, Perugia, Italy.



The complex interplay between viral infection and virus-activated inflammatory pathways with protease inhibitors (PIs) contributes to the increased risk of developing atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease in HIV-infected patients. Leflunomide is an antirheumatic drug whose administration to HIV-1-infected persons effectively decreases T-cell turnover and activation. In this study we have investigated the effects of leflunomide on dyslipidaemia and lipodistrophy induced by ritonavir in rodents.


Mice were administered ritonavir (5 mg/kg/day) alone or in combination with leflunomide (40 mg/kg/day) for 12 days. Expression of nuclear receptor and lipidogenetic genes was measured in liver and adipose tissues.


Administration of the HIV PI ritonavir to mice increased plasma triacylglycerols, free fatty acids and cholesterol levels, and this effect was reverted by cotreatment with leflunomide. Ritonavir administration was associated with reduced epididymal fat/body weight ratio and increased liver content of triacylglycerols content. These effects were reverted by leuflunomide. Histopathology analysis shows that exposure to ritonavir causes inflammation of epididymal fat as demonstrated by dense leukocytes infiltration as well as by increased levels of proinflammatory mediators and reduced expression and activity of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ (PPAR-γ). Leflunomide reduced epididymal fat inflammatory-metabolic alteration induced by ritonavir and restored PPAR-γ expression in the epididymal fat.


We have shown that the anti-inflammatory drug leflunomide protects against ritonavir-induced inflammation and dysmetabolism in adipose tissue and might be a promising strategy in the setting of HIV-infected patients at risk for HIV-induced dyslipidaemia.

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