Human cells possess an antiviral activity that inhibits the release of retrovirus particles, and other enveloped virus particles, and is antagonized by the HIV-1 accessory protein, Vpu. This antiviral activity can be constitutively expressed or induced by interferon-alpha, and it consists of protein-based tethers, which we term 'tetherins', that cause retention of fully formed virions on infected cell surfaces. Using deductive constraints and gene expression analyses, we identify CD317 (also called BST2 or HM1.24), a membrane protein of previously unknown function, as a tetherin. Specifically, CD317 expression correlated with, and induced, a requirement for Vpu during HIV-1 and murine leukaemia virus particle release. Furthermore, in cells where HIV-1 virion release requires Vpu expression, depletion of CD317 abolished this requirement. CD317 caused retention of virions on cell surfaces and, after endocytosis, in CD317-positive compartments. Vpu co-localized with CD317 and inhibited these effects. Inhibition of Vpu function and consequent mobilization of tetherin's antiviral activity is a potential therapeutic strategy in HIV/AIDS.