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J Med Life. 2011 Nov 14;4(4):432-9. Epub 2011 Nov 24.

How much do antiretroviral drugs penetrate into the central nervous system?

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Dr. Victor Babes Hospital for Infectious and Tropical Diseases, 281 Mihai Bravu Ave., District 3, 030303, Bucharest, Romania.


The central nervous system can act as a compartment in which HIV can replicate independently from plasma, and also as a sanctuary in which, under suboptimal drug pressure, HIV antiretroviral genetic variants can occur. Continuous replication of HIV in brain can contribute to neurocognitive impairment. Therefore, reaching adequate concentrations of antiretrovirals in the central nervous system might be essential in providing neuroprotection and improving neurocognition. Antiretrovirals have a restricted entry into the brain, due to several factors: the unique structure of the blood-brain barrier, and the existence of efficient efflux mechanisms. However, there is a high variability of antiretrovirals in reaching therapeutic drug concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid, that depend on the characteristics of the antiretrovirals (molecular weight, lipophilicity, protein binding) and on their capacity to be substrate for efflux transporters. The review aims to discuss the main mechanisms that interfere with antiretroviral penetration into central nervous system, and to summarize the current data concerning the penetrability of different antiretrovirals into the cerebrospinal fluid.


HIV; antiretroviral treatment; central nervous system; penetrability

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