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-α, 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.