HIV-infected individuals are at high risk of developing atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, in part due to HIV-induced impairment of cholesterol metabolism. In vitro studies demonstrated that HIV-1 protein Nef inhibits activity of ABCA1, the main cellular cholesterol transporter, leading to cholesterol accumulation in macrophages and conversion of these cells into foam cells, characteristic for atherosclerosis. However, the mechanisms of Nef-mediated effects on cholesterol metabolism in vivo are not well characterized. Here, we generated Nef-transgenic mice and evaluated the accumulation of neutral lipids in liver and aorta of these animals. Nef expression was low in all transgenic mice, with some mice carrying the Nef transgene but not expressing the Nef RNA. Using Oil Red O staining, we demonstrated increased levels of neutral lipids in liver and aorta of mice expressing Nef relative to transgenic animals with no detectable Nef expression or control wild-type mice. These results provide direct evidence that Nef promotes cholesterol deposition in tissues.
Accumulation of neutral lipids in liver and aorta of Nef-transgenic mice.