We have studied the sequence and function of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) nef genes from nine patients with highly divergent rates of disease progression enrolled in a longitudinal study of HIV disease. Over an average of 7.8 years of follow-up, three patients had net positive changes in CD4+ T-cell counts, three patients had net negative changes in CD4+ T cells but did not develop AIDS, and three patients progressed to AIDS. The nef gene from each of these patients was amplified and cloned, and the sequence of 8 to 10 clones was determined. Only 2 of 88 (2.3%) nef genes recovered from these nine patients were grossly defective. Moreover, there was no relationship between the phylogeny of nef sequences and the corresponding rates of disease progression from these patients. Representative nef genes from all nine patients were tested for their abilities to downregulate cell surface CD4 in a transient-transfection assay. There was no correlation found between the functions of the nef genes from these patients and their corresponding rates of disease progression. We conclude that the nef gene is not a common mediator of the rate of HIV disease progression in natural infection.