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Nef-mediated enhancement of cellular activation and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 replication in primary T cells is dependent on association with p21-activated kinase 2

Kevin C Olivieri1, Joya Mukerji1 and Dana Gabuzda12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cancer Immunology and AIDS, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA

2 Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

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Retrovirology 2011, 8:64  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-8-64

Published: 5 August 2011



The HIV-1 accessory protein Nef is an important determinant of lentiviral pathogenicity that contributes to disease progression by enhancing viral replication and other poorly understood mechanisms. Nef mediates diverse functions including downmodulation of cell surface CD4 and MHC Class I, enhancement of viral infectivity, and enhancement of T cell activation. Nef interacts with a multiprotein signaling complex that includes Src family kinases, Vav1, CDC42, and activated PAK2 (p21-activated kinase 2). Although previous studies have attempted to identify a biological role for the Nef-PAK2 signaling complex, the importance of this complex and its constituent proteins in Nef function remains unclear.


Here, we show that Nef mutants defective for PAK2-association, but functional for CD4 and MHC Class I downmodulation and infectivity enhancement, are also defective for the ability to enhance viral replication in primary T cells that are infected and subsequently activated by sub-maximal stimuli (1 μg/ml PHA-P). In contrast, these Nef mutants had little or no effect on HIV-1 replication in T cells activated by stronger stimuli (2 μg/ml PHA-P or anti-CD3/CD28-coated beads). Viruses bearing wild-type Nefs, but not Nef mutants defective for PAK2 association, enhanced NFAT and IL2 receptor promoter activity in Jurkat cells. Moreover, expression of wild-type Nefs, but not mutant Nefs defective for PAK2 association, was sufficient to enhance responsiveness of primary CD4 and CD8 T cells to activating stimuli in Nef-expressing and bystander cells. siRNA knockdown of PAK2 in Jurkat cells reduced NFAT activation induced by anti-CD3/CD28 stimulation both in the presence and absence of Nef, and expression of a PAK2 dominant mutant inhibited Nef-mediated enhancement of CD25 expression.


Nef-mediated enhancement of cellular activation and viral replication in primary T cells is dependent on PAK2 and on the strength of the activating stimuli, and correlates with the ability of Nef to associate with PAK2. PAK2 is likely to play a role in Nef-mediated enhancement of viral replication and immune activation in vivo.