As a mechanism of self-protection, signal peptides cleaved from human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I products bind to HLA-E before the complex interacts with the natural killer (NK) cell receptor CD94/NKG2A to inhibit NK-mediated cell lysis. Two types of the signal peptides differ in their position 2 (P2) anchor residue, with P2-methionine (P2-M) having higher HLA-E binding affinity than P2-threonine (P2-T). All HLA-A and HLA-C molecules carry P2-M, whereas HLA-B products have either P2-M or P2-T. Epidemiological evidence suggests that P2-M is unfavourable in the context of HIV-1 infection, being associated with accelerated acquisition of HIV-1 infection in two African cohorts. To begin elucidating the functional mechanism, we studied NK-mediated killing of CD4+ T cells and monocyte-derived macrophages infected with two laboratory-adapted HIV-1 strains and two transmitted/founder (T/F) viruses. In the presence of target cells derived from individuals with the three HLA-B P2 genotypes (M/M, M/T and T/T), NK-mediated cytolysis was elevated consistently for P2-T in a dose-dependent manner for all cell and virus combinations tested (P=0·008-0·03). Treatment of target cells with an anti-HLA-E monoclonal antibody restored NK-mediated cytolysis of cells expressing P2-M. Observations on cell lysis were also substantiated by measurements of HIV-1 p24 antigen in the culture supernatants. Overall, our experiments indicate that the anti-HIV-1 function mediated by NK cells is compromised by P2-M, corroborating the association of HLA-B genotype encoding P2-M with accelerated HIV-1 acquisition. © 2013 British Society for Immunology.