Avery LB, Sacktor N, McArthur JC, Hendrix CW. Protein-free efavirenz concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid & blood plasma are equivalent: Applying the law of mass action to predict protein-free drug concentration. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2013, 57: 1409-14. PMC3591913
Efavirenz (EFV) is one of the most commonly prescribed antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for the treatment of HIV. Highly protein-bound drugs, like EFV, have limited central nervous system (CNS) penetration when measured using total drug concentration gradients between blood plasma (BP) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). However, the more relevant pharmacologically active protein-free drug concentrations are rarely assessed directly in clinical studies. Using paired BP and CSF samples obtained from 13 subjects on an EFV-containing regimen, both the protein-free and total concentrations of EFV were determined. Despite a median (interquartile range [IQR]) total EFV BP/CSF concentration ratio of 134 (116 to 198), the protein-free EFV BP/CSF concentration ratio was 1.20 (0.97 to 2.12). EFV median (IQR) protein binding was 99.78% (99.74 to 99.80%) in BP and 76.19% (74.47 to 77.15%) in CSF. In addition, using the law of mass action and an in vitro-derived EFV-human serum albumin dissociation constant, we have demonstrated that the predicted median (IQR) protein-free concentration in BP, 4.59 ng/ml (4.02 to 9.44 ng/ml), compared well to that observed in BP, 4.77 ng/ml (3.68 to 6.75 ng/ml). Similar results were also observed in CSF and seminal plasma. This method provides a useful predictive tool for estimating protein binding in varied anatomic compartments. Our results of equivalent protein-free EFV concentrations in BP and CSF do not support prior concerns of the CNS as a pharmacological sanctuary from EFV. As CSF penetration of ARVs may increase our understanding of HIV-associated neurological dysfunction and antiretroviral effect, assessment of protein-free CSF concentrations of other highly protein-bound ARVs is warranted.