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To evaluate the impact of different antiretroviral therapies on the prognosis of AIDS patients affected by progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).A retrospective analysis of all HIV-infected patients admitted to hospital between 1988 and 1996 found 29 patients (25 men) with histologically or PCR- confirmed PML. Their mean age was 39.3 years. The median CD4 cell count was 40 × 106/l (mean, 106 × 106/l). Six patients had CD4 cell counts > 200 × 106/l. Fourteen patients never received or stopped antiretroviral therapy following diagnosis (group A), 10 patients were treated with nucleoside analogues alone (group B), and five patients started highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) including protease inhibitors (group C).The median survival following the onset of symptoms was 131 days, but differed significantly between the three groups: group A, 127 days; group B, 123 days; group C, > 500 days (P < 0.0002 for the difference between group C versus group A and B, stratified log-rank test). As of July 1997, four out of five patients on HAART were still alive 391, 500, 543, and 589 days after diagnosis of PML and have either experienced a resolution of the symptoms (three patients) or had progressed very slowly (one patient). A multivariate analysis using Cox regression found younger age at diagnosis to be the only other variable associated with improved survival (P < 0.02). CD4 cell count, gender, prior AIDS diagnosis, mode of HIV transmission, and therapy with foscarnet, cytarabine, or interferon-α did not affect survival in this cohort (P > 0.1).This study of a large cohort of patients with confirmed PML indicates that AIDS patients with PML may benefit significantly from HAART. All patients with PML should be offered optimal antiretroviral combination therapy.