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Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs or 'nukes')

for Veterans and the Public

Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs or nukes)

The first group of antiretroviral drugs is the nucleoside reverse transcriptase (pronounced "trans-krip-tase") inhibitors (NRTIs).

NRTIs were the first type of drug available to treat HIV. They are effective, powerful, and important medications for treating HIV when combined with other drugs. They are better known as nucleoside analogues or "nukes."

When the HIV virus enters a healthy cell, it attempts to make copies of itself. It does this by using an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. The NRTIs work because they block that enzyme. Without reverse transcriptase, HIV can't make new virus copies of itself.

The following drugs are NRTIs that are in current use; their generic names are listed along with their common names, if they have one, and their brand names. There are several older NRTIs that generally are not used; see the Drug Dosing Toolkit if you need information about those.

  • Abacavir (brand name: Ziagen®)
  • Emtricitabine (FTC; brand name: Emtriva®)
  • Lamivudine (3TC; brand name: Epivir®)
  • Tenofovir alafenamide (TAF)
  • Tenofovir DF (TDF; brand name: Viread®)

NRTI drugs may be combined into one tablet to make it easier to take your medications. These drugs are known as fixed-dose combinations; here are several examples*:

  • Descovy® (tenofovir alafenamide + Emtriva)
  • Epzicom® (Epivir + Ziagen)
  • Truvada® (Viread + Emtriva)

* Note: Generic combinations of some currently used NRTIs are available, as well as several combinations of older NRTIs that are not currently recommended. See the Drug Dosing Toolkit for more information.