HIV Nef is secreted in exosomes and triggers apoptosis in bystander CD4+ T cells

Metka Lenassi, Gerard Cagney, Maofu Liao, Tomaž Vaupotič, Koen Bartholomeeusen, Yifan Cheng, Nevan J. Krogan, Ana Plemenitaš, B. Matija Peterlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

427 Scopus citations


The HIV accessory protein negative factor (Nef) is one of the earliest and most abundantly expressed viral proteins. It is also found in the serum of infected individuals (Caby MP, Lankar D, Vincendeau-Scherrer C, Raposo G, Bonnerot C. Exosomal-like vesicles are present in human blood plasma. Int Immunol 2005;17:879-887). Extracellular Nef protein has deleterious effects on CD4+ T cells (James CO, Huang MB, Khan M, Garcia-Barrio M, Powell MD, Bond VC. Extracellular Nef protein targets CD4+ T cells for apoptosis by interacting with CXCR4 surface receptors. J Virol 2004;78:3099-3109), the primary targets of HIV, and can suppress immunoglobulin class switching in bystander B cells (Qiao X, He B, Chiu A, Knowles DM, Chadburn A, Cerutti A. Human immunodeficiency virus 1 Nef suppresses CD40-dependent immunoglobulin class switching in bystander B cells. Nat Immunol 2006;7:302-310). Nevertheless, the mode of exit of Nef from infected cells remains a conundrum. We found that Nef stimulates its own export via the release of exosomes from all cells examined. Depending on its intracellular location, these Nef exosomes form at the plasma membrane, late endosomes or both compartments in Jurkat, SupT1 and primary T cells, respectively. Nef release through exosomes is conserved also during HIV-1 infection of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs). Released Nef exosomes cause activation-induced cell death of resting PBLs in vitro. Thus, HIV-infected cells export Nef in bioactive vesicles, which facilitate the depletion of CD4+ T cells that is a hallmark of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-122
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • AIDS
  • Apoptosis
  • Exosome
  • HIV
  • Multivesicular body
  • Nef
  • T cell activation


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