What antiretroviral drugs are used to treat HIV?

Five main classes of antiretroviral drugs are approved for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) therapy. They include the following:
  • Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) were the first antiretrovirals developed for treatment of HIV. These drugs interfere with an enzyme that enables the virus to replicate. NRTIs include lamivudine (Epivir) and Combivir (AZT/3TC). A newer drug in this class, called emtricitabine (Emtriva), treats both HIV and hepatitis B. It must be used together with at least two other acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) medications.
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) bind to the enzyme reverse transcriptase to prevent the virus from copying itself. They include delavirdine (Rescriptor), efavirenz (Sustiva, Stocrin), nevirapine (Viramune) and etravirine (Intelence).
  • Protease inhibitors prevent the HIV virus from copying itself after entering a cell. By interfering with an enzyme called HIV protease, they prevent the virus from replicating at a later stage in its life cycle. They include saquinavir (Invirase), ritonavir (Norvir), indinavir (Crixivan) and nelfinavir (Viracept), among others. To help prevent resistance, protease inhibitors are usually prescribed with other medications.
  • Entry inhibitors (also called fusion inhibitors) block the virus from replicating by preventing its membrane from fusing with healthy cells. They appear to suppress the most drug-resistant strains of HIV. The two U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved entry inhibitors are enfuviritide (Fuzeon) and maraviroc (Selzentry). These drugs, which are prescribed with other HIV drugs, are used for people who have developed resistance to other HIV drugs or who have an advanced HIV infection.
  • Integrase inhibitors, similar to entry inhibitors, are designed to treat people with HIV who have developed a resistance to other treatments. They work by preventing HIV DNA from integrating into human DNA. So far, there is only one drug in this class -- raltegravir (Isentress) -- which is used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.