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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Aug 2;102(31):11017-22. Epub 2005 Jul 25.

HIV-1 Nef down-regulates the hemochromatosis protein HFE, manipulating cellular iron homeostasis.

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Molecular Immunology Group and Medical Research Council Human Immunology Unit, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 9DS, United Kingdom.


The multifunctional Nef protein of HIV-1 is important for the progression to AIDS. One action of Nef is to down-regulate surface MHC I molecules, helping infected cells to evade immunity. We found that Nef also down-regulates the macrophage-expressed MHC 1b protein HFE, which regulates iron homeostasis and is mutated in the iron-overloading disorder hemochromatosis. In model cell lines, Nef reroutes HFE to a perinuclear structure that overlaps the trans-Golgi network, causing a 90% reduction of surface HFE. This activity requires a Src-kinase-binding proline-rich domain of Nef and a conserved tyrosine-based motif in the cytoplasmic tail of HFE. HIV-1 infection of ex vivo macrophages similarly down-regulates naturally expressed surface HFE in a Nef-dependent manner. The effect of Nef expression on cellular iron was explored; iron and ferritin accumulation were increased in HIV-1-infected ex vivo macrophages expressing wild-type HFE, but this effect was lost with Nef-deleted HIV-1 or when infecting macrophages from hemochromatosis patients expressing mutated HFE. The iron accumulation in HIV-1-infected HFE-expressing macrophages was paralleled by an increase in cellular HIV-1-gag expression. We conclude that, through Nef and HFE, HIV-1 directly regulates cellular iron metabolism, possibly benefiting viral growth.

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