Alcoholism drug could help eliminate dormant HIV

Disulfiram treatment can reactivate latent HIV, which could help eliminate the cells harbouring the virus, report finds.

Researchers report that disulfiram, molecular structure pictured), a drug used to treat alcoholism, can reactivate latent HIV. The findings represent a step towards eliminating latent HIV

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) protects HIV patients from the worst effects of the disease, but it does not provide a cure. One major reason for this is HIV latency, where the virus lies dormant within the cells of the body. 

A study in The Lancet HIV (online, 6 November 2015)[1]
found that that disulfiram — a drug used to treat alcoholism — can reactivate latent HIV. This could allow the elimination of cells harbouring the virus. 

In the study, 30 HIV patients who were also receiving ART were given disulfiram at three different doses. The researchers found significant increases in levels of HIV transcription and, in patients given the highest dose (2000 mg), in plasma HIV RNA. 

The team say the findings represent a step towards eliminating latent HIV, and further studies of long-term, high-dose disulfiram are warranted.


[1] Elliott JH, McMahon JH, Chang CC et al. Short-term administration of disulfiram for reversal of latent HIV infection: a phase 2 dose-escalation study. Lancet HIV 2015. doi:10.1016/S2352-3018(15)00226-X

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Alcoholism drug could help eliminate dormant HIV;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20200167

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