Infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-encoding defective nef variants may contribute to a relatively benign course of disease in a minority of long-term nonprogressors (LTNP). We have examined the functions of nef alleles from six individuals belonging to the same cohort of hemophiliacs infected with HIV-1 prior to 1985 and classified as LTNP in 1995. Three out of six individuals have progressed to HIV disease (late progressors [LP]), whereas the three remainders have maintained their LTNP status at least up to 2003. The nef alleles were obtained from both plasma virus and peripheral blood mononuclear cells of all six individuals in 1995 and 1998. The proportion of sequences containing mutations not yielding Nef expression significantly diminished in 1998 versus that in 1995. Several previously defined functional regions of intact nef alleles were highly conserved. However, the major variant obtained in 1998 from plasma RNA of five out of six individuals significantly reduced HIV infectivity/replication and impaired Nef-mediated CD4 but not major histocompatibility complex class I antigen down-modulation from the cell surface. Thus, functional alterations of the nef gene are present in both LP and LTNP, suggesting that Nef defectiveness in vitro is not necessarily associated with the long-term maintenance of LTNP status. Of interest is the fact that isolates from three out of three LP showed a dual CCR5/CXCR4 coreceptor use (R5X4), in contrast to those from LTNP, which were exclusively R5. Thus, in vivo evolution of gp120 Env to CXCR4 use appears to be associated with HFV disease progression in individuals infected with nef-defective viruses.
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