HIV-1 infection is associated with a progressive and functional decline in the CD4+ lymphoid Th1 subset. Here, we propose that the HIV nef gene product may function as a specific regulator of Th1 cytokine production. By use of a T cell-specific inducible expression system, we show that upon T cell activation, induced nef expression down-regulated both IL-2 and IFN-gamma production in a dose-dependent manner, whereas IL-4, IL-9, IL-13, IL-8, and TNF-alpha production remained unaffected. In addition to this, independent transfected clones expressing various nef genes, including nef sequences amplified directly from an HIV-1 primary clinical isolate, displayed a similar pattern of cytokine expression. The specific Th1 impairment induced by nef, therefore, seems to be an important and conserved feature of HIV-1 infection and may represent a significant function of this viral gene in AIDS pathogenesis.

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