The use of antiretroviral medications in HIV-negative individuals as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a promising approach to prevent HIV infection. Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and emtricitabine exhibit desirable properties for PrEP including: favourable pharmacokinetics that support infrequent dosing; few major drug-drug or drug-food interactions; an excellent clinical safety record; and pre-clinical evidence for efficacy. Several large, randomized, controlled clinical trials are evaluating the safety and efficacy of TDF and emtricitabine for this new indication. A thorough understanding of variability in drug response will help determine future investigations in the field and/or implementation into clinical care. Because tenofovir and emtricitabine are nucleos(t)ide analogues, the HIV prevention and toxicity effects depend on the triphosphate analogue formed intracellularly. This review identifies important cellular pharmacology considerations for tenofovir and emtricitabine, which include drug penetration into relevant tissues and cell types, race/ethnicity/pharmacogenetics, gender, cellular activation state and appropriate episodic or alternative dosing strategies based on pharmacokinetic principles. The current state of knowledge in these areas is summarized and the future utility of intracellular pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics for the PrEP field is discussed.
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