The nef gene is conserved among all human and simian lentiviruses. However, the amino acid similarity between simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 NEF is only 38%. To assess the role of SIV NEF on virus replication and compare its activity with that of its human immunodeficiency virus type 1 counterpart, we examined the activity of an intact nef gene from proviral clone pSIV 102, an isolate from SIV-MAC-251-infected cells. Proviral clone pSIV BA was constructed by introducing a premature termination codon at codon 40 of the nef gene without altering the predicted amino acid sequence of the overlapping env gene. These two clones were transfected into CD4- COS cells, and virus replication was monitored by p27 enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kits. In seven independent experiments, clone pSIV BA afforded two- to sixfold greater levels of viral antigen compared with those in clone pSIV 102 and two- to sixfold-increased levels of viral mRNAs as indicated with Northern (RNA) blot and S1 nuclease protection analyses. Nuclear run-on assays demonstrated a two- to threefold increased rate of RNA synthesis with nuclei isolated from cells transfected with pSIV BA compared with that from cells transfected with pSIV 102. In contrast, there was no apparent destabilization of SIV mRNAs by NEF, as measured in dactinomycin-treated cells. This study demonstrates that SIV NEF is a negative regulator of virus replication and acts by suppressing the level of mRNA synthesis and accumulation in COS cells.