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Virology. 1996 May 1;219(1):228-36.

Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 Nef protein is incorporated into virus particles and specifically cleaved by the viral proteinase.

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Angewandte Tumorvirologie, Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Heidelberg, Germany.


The Nef protein of primate immunodeficiency viruses is essential for establishing a highly productive pathogenic infection in vivo. In tissue culture, Nef is not required for infection but enhances viral infectivity. This effect is most pronounced in unstimulated primary lymphocytes and occurs in the early phase of infection prior to viral gene expression. Since Nef expression does not lead to obvious changes in virus composition, it was of interest to analyze whether Nef is incorporated into virus particles. Here, we show that Nef is specifically immunoprecipitated from radioactively labeled human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected cells and virus particle preparations. Quantitative analysis revealed Nef to be incorporated on the order of 10% of reverse transcriptase incorporation, which corresponds to 5 to 10 molecules of Nef per virion. In infected cells, Nef was detected as a full-length 27-kDa protein. In contrast, approximately 50% of particle-associated Nef corresponded to an 18-kDa species which comigrated with the larger product after in vitro cleavage of purified HIV-1 Nef by the viral proteinase. Nef cleavage in particle preparations was completely abolished by a specific inhibitor of HIV-1 proteinase. Most likely, Nef is cleaved concomitantly with viral structural proteins on maturation of virus particles. This cleavage is likely to be functionally significant because it dissociates the conserved core domain from the N-terminal membrane attachment region. Our results suggest that the profound influence of Nef on establishing infection of unstimulated cells in tissue culture and in vivo is mediated by virion-associated Nef which functions in early infection before viral gene expression.

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