Journal of virology

Differential Ability of Primary HIV-1 Nef Isolates To Downregulate HIV-1 Entry Receptors.

PMID 26178998


HIV-1 Nef downregulates the viral entry receptor CD4 as well as the coreceptors CCR5 and CXCR4 from the surface of HIV-infected cells, and this leads to promotion of viral replication through superinfection resistance and other mechanisms. Nef sequence motifs that modulate these functions have been identified via in vitro mutagenesis with laboratory HIV-1 strains. However, it remains unclear whether the same motifs contribute to Nef activity in patient-derived sequences and whether these motifs may differ in Nef sequences isolated at different infection stages and/or from patients with different disease phenotypes. Here, nef clones from 45 elite controllers (EC), 46 chronic progressors (CP), and 43 acute progressors (AP) were examined for their CD4, CCR5, and CXCR4 downregulation functions. Nef clones from EC exhibited statistically significantly impaired CD4 and CCR5 downregulation ability and modestly impaired CXCR4 downregulation activity compared to those from CP and AP. Nef's ability to downregulate CD4 and CCR5 correlated positively in all cohorts, suggesting that they are functionally linked in vivo. Moreover, impairments in Nef's receptor downregulation functions increased the susceptibility of Nef-expressing cells to HIV-1 infection. Mutagenesis studies on three functionally impaired EC Nef clones revealed that multiple residues, including those at novel sites, were involved in the alteration of Nef functions and steady-state protein levels. Specifically, polymorphisms at highly conserved tryptophan residues (e.g., Trp-57 and Trp-183) and immune escape-associated sites were responsible for reduced Nef functions in these clones. Our results suggest that the functional modulation of primary Nef sequences is mediated by complex polymorphism networks. HIV-1 Nef, a key factor for viral pathogenesis, downregulates functionally important molecules from the surface of infected cells, including the viral entry receptor CD4 and coreceptors CCR5 and CXCR4. This activity enhances viral replication by protecting infected cells from cytotoxicity associated with superinfection and may also serve as an immune evasion strategy. However, how these activities are maintained under selective pressure in vivo remains elusive. We addressed this question by analyzing functions of primary Nef clones isolated from patients at various infection stages and with different disease phenotypes, including elite controllers, who spontaneously control HIV-1 viremia to undetectable levels. The results indicated that downregulation of HIV-1 entry receptors, particularly CCR5, is impaired in Nef clones from elite controllers. These functional impairments were driven by rare Nef polymorphisms and adaptations associated with cellular immune responses, underscoring the complex molecular pathways responsible for maintaining and attenuating viral protein function in vivo.