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Viral rebound and emergence of drug resistance in the absence of viral load testing: a randomized comparison between zidovudine-lamivudine plus Nevirapine and zidovudine-lamivudine plus Abacavir.

BACKGROUND: We investigated virological response and the emergence of resistance in the Nevirapine or Abacavir (NORA) substudy of the Development of Antiretroviral Treatment in Africa (DART) trial.

METHODS: Six hundred symptomatic antiretroviral-naive human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected adults (CD4 cell count, <200 cells/mm(3)) from 2 Ugandan centers were randomized to receive zidovudine-lamivudine plus abacavir or nevirapine. Virology was performed retrospectively on stored plasma samples at selected time points. In patients with HIV RNA levels >1000 copies/mL, the residual activity of therapy was calculated as the reduction in HIV RNA level, compared with baseline.

RESULTS: Overall, HIV RNA levels were lower in the nevirapine group than in the abacavir group at 24 and 48 weeks (P < .001), although no differences were observed at weeks 4 and 12. Virological responses were similar in the 2 treatment groups for baseline HIV RNA level <100,000 copies/mL. The mean residual activity at week 48 was higher for abacavir in the presence of the typically observed resistance pattern of thymidine analogue mutations (TAMs) and M184V (1.47 log(10) copies/mL) than for nevirapine with M184V and nonnucleoside reverse-transcriptase inhibitor mutations, whether accompanied by TAMs (0.96 log(10) copies/mL) or not (1.18 log(10) copies/mL).

CONCLUSIONS: There was more extensive genotypic resistance in both treatment groups than is generally seen in resource-rich settings. However, significant residual activity was observed among patients with virological failure, particularly those receiving zidovudine-lamivudine plus abacavir.

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