Background: Intracellular nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor triphosphate (NRTI-TP) concentrations are crucial in suppressing HIV replication. Little is known about how commonly used dual-NRTI regimens affect the intracellular levels of NRTI-TPs, the active form of these drugs. This study investigates the effect of dual-NRTI therapy in intracellular NRTI-TP levels. Methods: NRTI and NRTI-TP concentrations were evaluated in HIV-infected patients receiving either lamivudine (3TC) and stavudine (d4T) or lamivudine with zidovudine (ZDV); NRTI and NRTI-TP concentrations were determined using a validated HPLC/MS/MS method. Plasma HIV-1 RNA levels were determined at baseline and monthly to examine the relationship between NRTI-TP concentrations and plasma HIV-1 RNA. Results: Forty-one subjects completed the study. 3TC-TP significantly increased between day 1 and week 28 from 1.48 to 5.00 pmol/10 6 peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC; P<0.0001). NRTI-TP concentrations for d4T and ZDV did not significantly increase, with values at week 28 of 0.011 and 0.02 pmol/106 PBMC, respectively. Mean NRTI-TP/plasma ratios were 3%, 0.007% and 0.05% for 3TC, d4T and ZDV, respectively. Linear relationships were observed between ZDV- and 3TC-TP and changes in plasma HIV-1 RNA. Conclusion: Of the three drugs studied, only 3TC-TP levels increased significantly between day 1 and week 28. ZDV-TP and 3TC-TP levels were unaffected by dual-NRTI therapy relative to monotherapy, regardless of the combination (3TC-ZDV or 3TC-d4T). Intracellular levels of d4T-TP were similar to previous reports for dual-NRTI therapy; however, in the case of d4T, these values appear lower than those achieved with d4T monotherapy. © 2007 International Medical Press.