The nonclassical major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecule HLA-E inhibits natural killer (NK) cell-mediated lysis by interacting with CD94/NKG2A receptors. Surface expression of HLA-E depends on binding of conserved peptides derived from MHC class I molecules. The same peptide is present in the leader sequence of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) glycoprotein UL40 (gpUL40). It is shown that, independently of the transporter associated with antigen processing, gpUL40 can up-regulate expression of HLA-E, which protects targets from NK cell lysis. White classical MHC class I molecules are down-regulated, HLA-E is up-regulated by HCMV. Induction of HLA-E surface expression by gpUL40 may represent an escape route for HCMV.