Nef-induced CD4 and major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) down-regulation are governed by distinct determinants: N-terminal alpha helix and proline repeat of Nef selectively regulate MHC-I trafficking.
The Nef protein of primate lentiviruses triggers the accelerated endocytosis of CD4 and of class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC-I), thereby down-modulating the cell surface expression of these receptors. Nef acts as a connector between the CD4 cytoplasmic tail and intracellular sorting pathways both in the Golgi and at the plasma membrane, triggering the de novo formation of CD4-specific clathrin-coated pits (CCP). The downstream partners of Nef in this event are the adapter protein complex (AP) of CCP and possibly a subunit of the vacuolar ATPase. Whether Nef-induced MHC-I down-regulation stems from a similar mechanism is unknown. By comparing human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Nef mutants for their ability to affect either CD4 or MHC-I expression, both in transient-transfection assays and in the context of HIV-1 infection, it was determined that Nef-induced CD4 and MHC-I down-regulation constitute genetically and functionally separate properties. Mutations affecting only CD4 regulation mapped to residues previously shown to mediate the binding of Nef to this receptor, such as W57 and L58, as well as to an AP-recruiting dileucine motif and to an acidic dipeptide in the C-terminal region of the protein. In contrast, mutation of residues in an alpha-helical region in the proximal portion of Nef and amino acid substitutions in a proline-based SH3 domain-binding motif selectively affected MHC-I down-modulation. Although both the N-terminal alpha-helix and the proline-rich region of Nef have been implicated in recruiting Src family protein kinases, the inhibitor herbimycin A did not block MHC-I down-regulation, suggesting that the latter process is not mediated through an activation of this family of tyrosine kinases.