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To assess the impact of HIV-1 protease and reverse transcriptase (RT) mutations, and pharmacokinetic parameters on virological responses to nelfinavir (NFV)-containing highly active antiretroviral therapy.Naive or antiretroviral-experienced HIV-1-infected subjects were included in a non-randomized, observational cohort study and received two nucleoside RT inhibitors + NFV (750 mg three times per day or 1250 mg twice per day). Virologic success was defined as a virus load < 50 copies/ml for > 6 months.RT and protease genes were sequenced at baseline and at the time of virological failure. Plasma NFV trough concentration (Cmin), maximum concentration (Cmax), and AUC0–τ at steady-state were subjected to population pharmacokinetic analysis.Patients (n = 154) enrolled between November 1998 and February 2000 started a twice per day (n = 84) or three times per day (n = 70) NFV-based regimen as first- (n = 48) or second-line therapy when protease inhibitor-naive (n = 64) or -experienced (n = 42). Median follow-up duration was 16 months. Virologic failure occurred in 88 patients. No significant differences were observed between twice per day and three times per day regimens. According to multivariate analysis, NFV Cmin and Cmax, CD4 cell count, number of baseline RT + protease gene mutations, D67N, M184V, T215F/Y in RT, and M36I in protease, were independent factors that were significantly predictive of failure. At failure, L10I, D30N, M36I, V77I, N88S/D or L90M protease mutations had emerged since baseline. Pharmacokinetic parameters were similar in patients with or without emergence of these neo-mutations. The more discriminating NFV Cmin efficacy-threshold was estimated to be 1 mg/l.Our data confirm the association among individual pharmacokinetic parameters, genotype pattern and virological response to NFV-containing regimens.