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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Viremic long-term nonprogressive HIV-1 infection is not associated with abnormalities in known Nef functions

  • Author(s): Heigele, Anke
  • Camerini, David
  • van’t Wout, Angélique B
  • Kirchhoff, Frank
  • et al.


A small minority of HIV-1-infected individuals show low levels of immune activation and do not develop immunodeficiency despite high viral loads. Since the accessory viral Nef protein modulates T cell activation and plays a key role in the pathogenesis of AIDS, we investigated whether specific properties of Nef may be associated with this highly unusual clinical outcome of HIV-1 infection.


Comprehensive functional analyses of sequential HIV-1 strains from three viremic long-term non-progressors (VNP) showed that they encode full-length Nef proteins that are capable of modulating CD4, CD28, CD8ß, MHC-I and CD74 cell surface expression. Similar to Nef proteins from HIV-1-infected individuals with progressive infection (P-Nefs) and unlike Nefs from simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) that do not cause chronic immune activation and disease in their natural simian hosts, VNP-Nefs were generally unable to down-modulate TCR-CD3 cell surface expression to block T cell activation and apoptosis. On average, VNP-Nefs suppressed NF-AT activation less effectively than P-Nefs and were slightly less active in enhancing NF-κB activity. Finally, we found that VNP-Nefs increased virion infectivity and enhanced HIV-1 replication and cytopathicity in primary human cells and in ex vivo infected lymphoid tissues.


Our results show that nef alleles from VNPs and progressors of HIV-1 infection show only modest differences in established functions. Thus, the lack of chronic immune activation and disease progression in HIV-1-infected VNPs is apparently not associated with unusual functional properties of the accessory viral Nef protein.

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