During a progressive HIV-1 infection, the gradual decrease in functional CD4+ Thelper cells leads to immunodeficiency and eventually death in the untreated patient. The virulence role of the lentiviral accessory gene nef was first reported from deletion studies in the macaque model, and research during the past decade has revealed a pluripotent protein capable of multiple points of interference with cellular mechanisms. Importantly, Nef has the capacity to modify the plasma membrane signalling by regulation of receptor / ligand endocytosis as well as to modulate cellular regulation such as apoptosis and lymphocyte activation. This effective defence against an apparent vigorous and specific immune response is crucial for the ability of HIV-1 to persist in the host. Here we review the multitude of functions exerted by Nef and discuss the functional domains of the protein in terms of cellular interaction partners and the effect of nef mutations in the course of AIDS disease progression.
Keywords: hiv-1, immune escape, cellular interactions
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