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What Is Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)?

July 23, 2014

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What Is ART?

ART are medications that treat HIV. The drugs do not kill or cure the virus. However, when taken in combination they can prevent the growth of the virus. When the virus is slowed down, so is HIV disease. Antiretroviral drugs are referred to as ARV. Combination ARV therapy (cART) is referred to as highly active ART(HAART).

What Is the HIV Life Cycle?

There are several steps in the HIV life cycle. (See Fact Sheet 106 for a diagram.)

  1. Free virus circulates in the bloodstream.
  2. HIV attaches to a cell.
  3. HIV empties its contents into the cell.
  4. The HIV genetic material (RNA) is used by the reverse transcriptase enzyme to build HIV DNA.
  5. The HIV DNA is inserted into the cell's chromosome by the HIV integrase enzyme. This establishes the HIV infection in the cell.
  6. When the infected cell reproduces, it activates the HIV DNA, which makes the raw material for new HIV viruses.
  7. Packets of material for a new virus come together.
  8. The immature virus pushes out of the infected cell in a process called "budding."
  9. The immature virus breaks free of the infected cell.
  10. The new virus matures: raw materials are cut by the protease enzyme and assembled into a functioning virus.

Approved ARV Drugs

Each type, or "class", of ARV drugs attacks HIV in a different way. The first class of anti-HIV drugs was the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (also called NRTIs or "nukes".) These drugs block step 4, where the HIV genetic material is used to create DNA from RNA. The following drugs in this class are used:

Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, also called non-nukes or NNRTIs, also block step 4 but in a different way. Five have been approved:

Protease inhibitors or PIs block Step 10, where the raw material for new HIV virus is cut into specific pieces. Ten protease inhibitors are approved:

Entry inhibitors prevent HIV from entering a cell by blocking step 2 of the life cycle. Two drugs of this type have been approved:

HIV integrase inhibitors prevent HIV from inserting its genetic code into the human cell's code in step 5 of the life cycle. The two drugs of this type are:

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This article was provided by AIDS InfoNet. Visit AIDS InfoNet's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
HIV Medications: When to Start and What to Take -- A Guide From
More on HIV Medications


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