Defining a Cutoff for Atazanavir in Hair Samples Associated With Virological Failure Among Adolescents Failing Second-Line Antiretroviral Treatment

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Adequate antiretroviral exposure is crucial to virological suppression. We assessed the relationship between atazanavir hair levels with self-reported adherence, virological outcomes, and the effect of a home-based adherence intervention in HIV-infected adolescents failing second-line antiretroviral treatment in Zimbabwe.


HIV-infected adolescents on atazanavir/ritonavir-based second-line treatment for ≥6 months with viral load (VL) >1000 copies/mL were randomized to either standard care (control) or standard care plus modified directly administered antiretroviral therapy (intervention). Questionnaires were administered; VL and hair samples were collected at baseline and after 90 days in each group. Viral suppression was defined as <1000 copies/mL after follow-up.


Fifty adolescents (10–18 years) were enrolled; 23 (46%) were randomized to intervention and 27 (54%) to control. Atazanavir hair concentration <2.35 ng/mg (lower interquartile range for those with virological suppression) defined a cutoff below which most participants experienced virological failure. Male sex (P = 0.03), virological suppression at follow-up (P = 0.013), greater reduction in VL (P = 0.006), and change in average self-reported adherence over the previous month (P = 0.031) were associated with adequate (>2.35 ng/mg) hair concentrations. Participants with virological failure were more likely to have suboptimal atazanavir hair concentrations (RR = 7.2, 95% CI: 1 to 51, P = 0.049). There were no differences in atazanavir hair concentration between the arms after follow-up.


A threshold of atazanavir concentrations in hair (2.35 ng/mg), above which virological suppression was likely, was defined for adolescents failing second-line atazanavir/ritonavir-based ART in Zimbabwe. Male sex and better self-reported adherence were associated with adequate atazanavir hair concentrations. Antiretroviral hair concentrations may serve as a useful clinical tool among adolescents.

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