HIV-1 Nef protein contributes to pathogenesis via multiple functions that include enhancement of viral replication and infectivity, alteration of intracellular trafficking, and modulation of cellular signaling pathways. Nef stimulates formation of tunneling nanotubes and virological synapses, and is transferred to bystander cells via these intercellular contacts and secreted microvesicles. Nef associates with and activates Pak2, a kinase that regulates T-cell signaling and actin cytoskeleton dynamics, but how Nef promotes nanotube formation is unknown.
To identify Nef binding partners involved in Pak2-association dependent Nef functions, we employed tandem mass spectrometry analysis of Nef immunocomplexes from Jurkat cells expressing wild-type Nef or Nef mutants defective for the ability to associate with Pak2 (F85L, F89H, H191F and A72P, A75P in NL4-3). We report that wild-type, but not mutant Nef, was associated with 5 components of the exocyst complex (EXOC1, EXOC2, EXOC3, EXOC4, and EXOC6), an octameric complex that tethers vesicles at the plasma membrane, regulates polarized exocytosis, and recruits membranes and proteins required for nanotube formation. Additionally, Pak2 kinase was associated exclusively with wild-type Nef. Association of EXOC1, EXOC2, EXOC3, and EXOC4 with wild-type, but not mutant Nef, was verified by co-immunoprecipitation assays in Jurkat cells. Furthermore, shRNA-mediated depletion of EXOC2 in Jurkat cells abrogated Nef-mediated enhancement of nanotube formation. Using bioinformatic tools, we visualized protein interaction networks that reveal functional linkages between Nef, the exocyst complex, and the cellular endocytic and exocytic trafficking machinery.
Exocyst complex proteins are likely a key effector of Nef-mediated enhancement of nanotube formation, and possibly microvesicle secretion. Linkages revealed between Nef and the exocyst complex suggest a new paradigm of exocyst involvement in polarized targeting for intercellular transfer of viral proteins and viruses.