, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 1-6

Early features of zidovudine-associated myopathy: histopathological findings and clinical correlations

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Zidovudine-induced myopathy is characterized by reversible muscle weakness, wasting, myalgia, fatigue, and elevated creatine kinase (CK). Some zidovudine-treated patients with normal muscle strength experience excessive fatigue, myalgia, or transient mild CK elevations that improve when zidovudine is stopped. To determine the cause of these symptoms, we studied 13 physically fit, HIV-infected men who developed fatigue, myalgia, and reduced endurance, while taking zidovudine for a mean period of 20 months (2–39 months), with neurological evaluation and muscle biopsy processed for enzyme histochemistry and electron microscopy (EM). All subjects had normal muscle strength. In 6 of the 13 patients, muscle biopsies were normal by enzyme histochemistry. EM, however, demonstrated proliferation of normal or abnormal mitochondria, and increased amounts of lipid, glycogen, and lipofuscin. Electromyographic (EMG) studies (5/5) and serum CK (6/6) were normal. The other 7 individuals had signs of moderate to severe mitochondrial abnormalities shown by both light microscopy and EM, characterized by severe destruction, vacuolization, and rare paracrystalline inclusions. Most had elevated CK (4 out of 7) and normal EMG (5 out of 7). The severity of morphological abnormalities did not correlate with duration of HIV infection, zidovudine therapy, or zidovudine dosage. We conclude that in zidovudine-treated patients, symptoms of fatigue, myalgia, reduced endurance, and exercise intolerance represent early signs of zidovuline-induced mitochondriotoxicity, which causes an energy shortage within the muscle fibers even when muscle strength is still normal. Zidovudine, a DNA chain terminator, results in overt myopathy when a critical threshold of molecular, histological, and biochemical dysfunction of mitochondria is crossed, which seems to vary between individuals.