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Review Article

Pharmacokinetics, Placental and Breast Milk Transfer of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant and Lactating Women Living with HIV

[ Vol. 25 , Issue. 5 ]


E.M. Hodel*, C. Marzolini, C. Waitt and N. Rakhmanina   Pages 556 - 576 ( 21 )


Background: Remarkable progress has been achieved in the identification of HIV infection in pregnant women and in the prevention of vertical HIV transmission through maternal antiretroviral treatment (ART) and neonatal antiretroviral drug (ARV) prophylaxis in the last two decades. Millions of women globally are receiving combination ART throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, periods associated with significant biological and physiological changes affecting the pharmacokinetics (PK) and pharmacodynamics (PD) of ARVs. The objective of this review was to summarize currently available knowledge on the PK of ARVs during pregnancy and transport of maternal ARVs through the placenta and into the breast milk. We also summarized main safety considerations for in utero and breast milk ARVs exposures in infants.

Methods: We conducted a review of the pharmacological profiles of ARVs in pregnancy and during breastfeeding obtained from published clinical studies. Selected maternal PK studies used a relatively rich sampling approach at each ante- and postnatal sampling time point. For placental and breast milk transport of ARVs, we selected the studies that provided ratios of maternal to the cord (M:C) plasma and breast milk to maternal plasma (M:P) concentrations, respectively.

Results: We provide an overview of the physiological changes during pregnancy and their effect on the PK parameters of ARVs by drug class in pregnancy, which were gathered from 45 published studies. The PK changes during pregnancy affect the dosing of several protease inhibitors during pregnancy and limit the use of several ARVs, including three single tablet regimens with integrase inhibitors or protease inhibitors co-formulated with cobicistat due to suboptimal exposures. We further analysed the currently available data on the mechanism of the transport of ARVs from maternal plasma across the placenta and into the breast milk and summarized the effect of pregnancy on placental and of breastfeeding on mammal gland drug transporters, as well as physicochemical properties, C:M and M:P ratios of individual ARVs by drug class. Finally, we discussed the major safety issues of fetal and infant exposure to maternal ARVs.

Conclusions: Available pharmacological data provide evidence that physiological changes during pregnancy affect maternal, and consequently, fetal ARV exposure. Limited available data suggest that the expression of drug transporters may vary throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding thereby possibly impacting the amount of ARV crossing the placenta and secreted into the breast milk. The drug transporter’s role in the fetal/child exposure to maternal ARVs needs to be better understood. Our analysis underscores the need for more pharmacological studies with innovative study design, sparse PK sampling, improved study data reporting and PK modelling in pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV to optimize their treatment choices and maternal and child health outcomes.


HIV, women, antiretroviral drugs, pharmacology, pregnancy, placental transfer, breastfeeding.


Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Liverpool, Molecular & Clinical Pharmacology, Liverpool, Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Liverpool, Molecular & Clinical Pharmacology, Liverpool, Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Liverpool, Molecular & Clinical Pharmacology, Liverpool, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Washington, DC

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