Apoptosis enhancement by the HIV-1 Nef protein

A. Rasola, D. Gramaglia, C. Boccaccio, P. M. Comoglio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The HIV-1 nef gene, essential for AIDS pathogenesis, encodes a 27-kDa protein (Nef) whose biochemical and biological functions are unclear. It has been suggested that Nef expression contributes to the T cell depletion observed during the disease by promoting their apoptosis. We report that in CD4+ human lymphoblastoid cell lines transfected with the nef cDNA obtained from three different HIV-1 strains, expression of the Nef protein enhances and accelerates the response to four unrelated apoptotic agents (staurosporine, anisomycin, camptothecin, and etoposide) but not to an anti-Fas agonist Ab. Nef reduces the expression of the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL and induces a striking enhancement of apoptotic hallmarks, including mitochondrial depolarization, exposure of phosphatidylserine on the cell surface, activation of caspase-3, and cleavage of the caspase target poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. Interestingly, the peptide Z-Val-Ala-DL-Asp-fluoromethylketone (a broad-spectrum caspase inhibitor) reduces, but does not abolish, phosphatidylserine exposure, suggesting that Nef also activates a caspase-independent apoptotic pathway. Surprisingly, Nef expression increases DNA degradation but without causing oligonucleosomal fragmentation. An increased apoptotic response and down-modulation of Bcl-2/Bcl-XL following Nef expression are observed also in NIH-3T3 fibroblasts. These data show that Nef enhances programmed cell death in different cell types by affecting multiple critical components of the apoptotic machinery independently from the Fas pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-88
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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