Natural killer (NK) cells are a major component of the host innate immune defence against various pathogens. Several viruses, including Human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), have developed strategies to evade the NK-cell response. This study was designed to evaluate whether HIV-1 could interfere with the expression of NK cell-activating ligands, specifically the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-I-like MICA and ULBP molecules that bind NKG2D, an activating receptor expressed by all NK cells. Results show that the HIV-1 Nef protein downmodulates cell-surface expression of MICA, ULBP1 and ULBP2, with a stronger effect on the latter molecule. The activity on MICA and ULBP2 is well conserved in Nef protein variants derived from HIV-1-infected patients. In HIV-1-infected cells, cell-surface expression of NKG2D ligands increased to a higher extent with a Nef-deficient virus compared with wild-type virus. Mutational analysis of Nef showed that NKG2D ligand downmodulation has structural requirements that differ from those of other reported Nef activities, including HLA-I downmodulation. Finally, data demonstrate that Nef expression has functional consequences on NK-cell recognition, causing a decreased susceptibility to NK cell-mediated lysis. These findings provide a novel insight into the mechanisms evolved by HIV-1 to escape from the NK-cell response.
ASJC Scopus subject areas