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J Neurovirol. 2018 Feb;24(1):1-15. doi: 10.1007/s13365-017-0586-0. Epub 2017 Oct 23.

Brain-specific HIV Nef identified in multiple patients with neurological disease.

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Bioinfoexperts LLC, Thibodaux, LA, 70301, USA.
Natural Selection, Inc, San Diego, CA, USA.
Bioinfoexperts LLC, Thibodaux, LA, 70301, USA.
The University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
The University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA.


HIV-1 Nef is a flexible, multifunctional protein with several cellular targets that is required for pathogenicity of the virus. This protein maintains a high degree of genetic variation among intra- and inter-host isolates. HIV Nef is relevant to HIV-associated neurological diseases (HAND) in patients treated with combined antiretroviral therapy because of the protein's role in promoting survival and migration of infected brain macrophages. In this study, we analyzed 2020 HIV Nef sequences derived from 22 different tissues and 31 subjects using a novel computational approach. This approach combines statistical regression and evolved neural networks (ENNs) to classify brain sequences based on the physical and chemical characteristics of functional Nef domains. Based on training, testing, and validation data, the method successfully classified brain Nef sequences at 84.5% and provided informative features for further examination. These included physicochemical features associated with the Src-homology-3 binding domain, the Nef loop (including the AP-2 Binding region), and a cytokine-binding domain. Non-brain sequences from patients with HIV-associated neurological disease were frequently classified as brain, suggesting that the approach could indicate neurological risk using blood-derived virus or for the development of biomarkers for use in assay systems aimed at drug efficacy studies for the treatment of HIV-associated neurological diseases.


Analytical classification tools; Brain; HIV; Macrophages; Nef protein; Neurological disease

[Available on 2019-02-01]

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