The relative in vitro potency of nine human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1 reverse transcriptase inhibitors was evaluated in a coculture assay which measures the frequencies of infectious primary cells from HIV-positive patients by the limiting dilution technique and measures their apparent reduction under increasing concentrations of drugs. An advantage of this assay is that it utilizes a variety of wild-type viruses not selected by in vitro propagation. Potency ranking placed the (-)-L-enantiomer of 2',3'-dideoxy-5-fluoro-3'-thiacytidine [(-)-FTC], an oxathiolane pyrimidine nucleoside analog (90% effective concentration = 55 nM), before 2',3'-dideoxycytidine (DDC) (74 nM), (-)-2',3'-dideoxy-3'-thiacytidine (3TC) (300 nM), 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine (AZT) (530 nM), TIBO R82913 (670 nM), and 2',3'-dideoxyinosine (DDI) (6,400 nM). HIV from AZT-naive patients' lymphocytes was more sensitive to the inhibitory effect of (-)-FTC, 3TC, or DDC than was highly AZT-resistant HIV obtained from AZT-treated patients' cells, indicating partial cross-resistance between thymidine and cytidine analogs. Combined inhibitory concentrations of AZT with (-)-FTC, 3TC, DDC, and DDI produced synergistic interactions as determined by the multiple-drug effect analysis. Synergistic interactions were demonstrable with AZT plus (-)-FTC or with AZT plus DDC with cells bearing AZT-resistant HIV. The inhibitory concentrations of AZT established by this cell-to-cell virus transmission assay are closer than those determined by the conventional assay system to the extracellular AZT concentrations required in patients' plasma to achieve comparable levels of HIV inhibition in vivo
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