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The mechanism of HIV-1 Nef-mediated downregulation of CD4

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Chaudhuri, Rittik 


Nef, an accessory protein of HIV-1, is a critical determinant of viral pathogenicity. The pathogenic effects of Nef are in large part dependent on its ability to decrease the amount of CD4 on the surface of infected cells. Early studies suggested that Nef induces downregulation by linking the cytosolic tail of CD4 to components of the host-cell protein-trafficking machinery. However, the specific sorting pathway that Nef uses to modulate CD4 expression remained uncertain. According to one model, Nef was thought to interfere with the transport of newly synthesized CD4 from the TGN to the cell-surface. Another model claimed that Nef facilitated the removal of CD4 from the plasma membrane.

The primary goal of this thesis was to determine which of these models was correct. To accomplish this objective, a novel Nef-CD4 system was developed in Drosophila S2 cells. Nef was not only able to downregulate human CD4 in S2 cells, but it did so in a manner that was phenotypically indistinguishable from its activity in human cells. An RNAi screen targeting protein-trafficking genes in S2 cells revealed a requirement for clathrin and the clathrin-associated, plasma membrane-localized AP-2 complex in the Nef-mediated downregulation of CD4. In contrast, depletion of the related AP-1 and AP-3 complexes, which direct transport from the TGN and endosomes, had no effect. The requirement for AP-2 was subsequently confirmed in a human cell line. Yeast three-hybrid and GST pull-down assays were then used to demonstrate a robust, direct interaction between Nef and AP-2. This interaction was found to depend on a [D/E]xxxL[L/I]-type dileucine motif, located in the C-terminal loop of Nef, that is essential for CD4 downregulation.

While mapping the binding site of AP-2 on Nef, a second determinant of interaction in the C-terminal loop was identified. Mutation of this motif, which conforms to a consensus [D/E]D diacidic sequence, prevented Nef from binding to AP-2 and down-regulating CD4. However, the same mutations did not affect the ability of Nef to interact with either AP-1 or AP-3, providing further evidence that these complexes are not required for the modulation of CD4 expression. Additional experiments indicated that the Nef diacidic motif most likely binds to a basic patch on AP-2 α-adaptin that is not present in the homologous AP-1 γ and AP-3 δ subunits. As with the Nef diluecine and diacidic motifs, the α-adaptin basic patch was shown to be necessary for CD4 downregulation. Moreover, all three of these motifs were needed for the cooperative assembly of a CD4-Nef-AP-2 tripartite complex, which was observed here for the first time using a yeast four-hybrid system.

The data in this thesis uniformly support an endocytic model of Nef-mediated CD4 downregulation. Indeed, there is now strong evidence that Nef simultaneously binds CD4 and AP-2, thereby connecting the receptor to the cellular endocytic machinery and promoting its rapid internalization from the plasma membrane. In addition, the identification of novel motifs required for this process has provided new insights on endocytosis, and may facilitate the development of pharmacological inhibitors of Nef function.





HIV, Nef, CD4, Endocytosis, Protein trafficking, Virus, adaptor, AP-2, AP2


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Rittik Chaudhuri was sponsored by NIH-Cambridge and Gates-Cambridge Scholarsihps. This work was also supported by the intramural program of the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NIH, USA), Intramural AIDS Targeted Antiretroviral Program (NIH, USA), and the Wellcome Trust (UK).