Optimal suppression of HIV replication by low-dose hydroxyurea through the combination of antiviral and cytostatic ('virostatic') mechanisms

Franco Lori, Andrea Foli, Antonella Groff, Luca Lova, Lucia Whitman, Nyasha Bakare, Richard B. Pollard, Julianna Lisziewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The hydroxyurea-didanosine combination has been shown to limit immune activation (a major pathogenic component of HIV/AIDS) and suppress viral load by both antiviral and cytostatic ('virostatic') activities. Virostatics action represent a novel approach to attack HIV/AIDS from multiple directions; however, the use of these drugs is limited by the lack of understanding of their dose-dependent mechanism of action and by fear of pancreatic toxicity, even though a large review of ACTG studies has shown that hydroxyurea does not increase the incidence of pancreatitis. Methods: In vitro cytostatic and cytotoxic activity, inhibition of viral replication and immune activation by pharmacologically attainable plasma concentrations of hydroxyurea (10-100 μmol/l) and didanosine (1-5 μmol/l) were analyzed by cell proliferation, viability, apoptosis and infection assays using peripheral blood mononuclear cells. In vivo, 600, 900 and 1200 mg daily doses of hydroxyurea in combination with standard doses of didanosine and stavudine were studied in 115 randomized chronically infected patients. Results: A cytostatic low (10 μmol/l) concentration of hydroxyurea inhibited cell proliferation and HIV replication in vitro. A gradual switch from cytostatic to cytotoxic effects was observed by increasing hydroxyurea concentration to 50-100 μmol/l, predicting that lower doses of hydroxyurea would be less toxic and more potent in vivo. The clinical results confirmed that 600 mg hydroxyurea was better tolerated, had fewer side effects and was more potent in suppressing HIV replication than the higher doses. Conclusions: A bimodal, dose-dependent, cytostatic-cytotoxic switch is an immune-based mechanism explaining the apparent paradox that lowering the dose of hydroxyurea to 600 mg daily induces maximal antiviral suppression in HIV-infected patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1173-1181
Number of pages9
JournalAIDS (London, England)
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jul 22 2005


  • Cytostatic
  • Cytotoxic
  • Didanosine
  • Hydroxyurea
  • Viral suppression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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