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To assess the prognostic significance of drug-associated mutations in the protease and reverse transcriptase (RT) genes on virological response to salvage therapy.All patients from four centres of the Swiss HIV Cohort Study who were switched, between February and October 1997, to nelfinavir plus other antiretroviral drugs following failure of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HIV-1 RNA >1000 copies/ml after >3 months).Direct sequencing of RT and protease genes derived from plasma RNA was performed in 62 patients before salvage therapy. Baseline predictors (drug-resistance mutations, drug exposure, clinical and biological parameters) of virological response after 4-12 weeks of therapy were assessed by linear regression analyses.Patients had been treated with RT inhibitors and protease inhibitors for a median duration of 35.6 and 12.2 months, respectively. Baseline median CD4 cell count was 113×106/l and HIV-1 RNA 5.16log10 copies/ml. The median decrease of HIV-1 RNA was 0.38log10; 32% of the patients showed >1log10 decrease. At baseline, 90% of the patients had RT inhibitor-resistance mutations with a median number per patient of four (range, 0-7). Primary and secondary protease inhibitor-resistance mutations were detected in 69% and 89% of the patients, respectively. The median number of total protease inhibitor-resistance mutations per patient was four (range, 0-9). In univariate analysis, virological response to salvage therapy was associated with number of RT inhibitors, primary and secondary protease inhibitor-resistance mutations, history of protease inhibitor use (duration and number), but not with clinical stage, HIV-1 RNA level or CD4 cell count. After adjustment for all variables, the number of RT inhibitor plus protease inhibitor-resistance mutations was the only independent predictor.In patients with advanced HIV infection, the virological response to salvage therapy containing nelfinavir is best predicted by the number of baseline RT inhibitor plus protease inhibitor-resistance mutations.