Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) NEF protein has been demonstrated to be a negative regulator of HIV-1 replication and HIV-1 LTR transcription under transient expression conditions. The difficulty of several laboratories to reproduce these findings led us to reexamine the role of NEF in HIV-1 provirus expression and HIV-1 LTR transcription. Basal transcription from the HIV-1 LTR in the presence of a NEF expression vector was compared to that in the presence of a mutated NEF vector. NEF expression led to a greater than 10-fold repression of LTR transcription under these conditions. HeLa and Jurkat cell lines carrying the nef gene linked to the CMV promoter or the HIV-1 LTR were isolated by coselection for neomycin resistance. Single cell isolates were further selected for the expression of nef transcripts. With the exception of the anti-sense nef cell lines, all the nef cell lines expressed the 27-kDa NEF protein, detectable by immunoprecipitation. NEF+ HeLa cell lines were at least 5-fold less efficient than NEF- HeLa cell lines in transient proviral expression. Provirus expression was also repressed in the NEF+ Jurkat cell lines. TAT-activated LTR transcription from an HIV-1 LTR-linked CAT expression vector was repressed 10-fold in the NEF+ HeLa and NEF+ Jurkat cell lines. When infected with HIV-1, NEF expressing T lymphoid cell lines showed moderate delays in onset and peak of reverse transcriptase production. However, none of these cell lines completely arrested virus replication. Our data confirm a negative regulatory effect of NEF on both virus production and LTR driven CAT expression in the cell lines tested. It is possible that cell specific factors may influence NEF activity.
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