How Antiretroviral Drugs Work

A nucleotide is an organic molecule consisting of a base, a sugar, and phosphate.

A nucleoside is similar, except it does not contain a phosphate.

Nucleotides linked together in a strand form a nucleic acid.
The most common nucleic acids are ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

DNA stores the instructions required for eukaryotic cellular reproduction, development and function. RNA is transcribed from the genes encoded in the DNA. Transcribed RNA forms a template upon which protein synthesis occurs. Cells respond to stimulus that cause DNA to transcribed a specific RNA template. The RNA translates a protein which produces the required cellular activity.

HIV belongs to a group of viruses called retrovirus. A retrovirus has genes comprised of RNA. Like all viruses, HIV "replicates" or "copies itself" within host cells. HIV is classified as a retrovirus because it uses the enzyme reverse transcriptase to transcribes its RNA genes to form a double stranded DNA segment. The viral enzyme integrase inserts the viral DNA into the host cell genome, completing the infection. Once embedded in the genome, viral DNA transcribes viral RNA. The viral RNA uses the host cell to produce viral components that will be assembled into a multitude of virion.

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HIV uses the viral enzyme reverse transcriptase to transcribe DNA from viral RNA.

Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs inhibit the replication of HIV at various stages of its life cycle. Classes of approved ARV drugs include: