Institut Cochin, CNRS UMR8104, université Paris-Descartes, Paris, France, Inserm U567, Paris, France
Despite 25 years of research on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the functions of some viral proteins are not fully understood. The role of Nef in the evolution of HIV-1 infection towards immunodeficiency is undeniable; however, the mechanisms involved in this function of Nef remain elusive. The interaction of Nef with a large number of cellular partners disrupts the metabolism of infected cells, including the endocytic pathway, in favor of viral spread. Down-regulation of cell-surface major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules by Nef enables infected cells to escape immune surveillance. Nef-induced down-regulation of CD4 increases the infectivity of virions by increasing the incorporation of the envelope glycoproteins into the viral membrane. In addition, Nef increases viral infectivity through a mechanism that is independent of MHC and CD4 down-regulation that nonetheless requires the ability of Nef to interfere with the endocytic process. Overall, these properties promote viral spread in the infected host.