Deletion of the M063 gene from myxoma virus produces a virus that is unable to replicate in rabbit cells in vitro or in live rabbits but can be propagated in non-rabbit cell lines. A targeted M063 deletion mutant was constructed in the attenuated Uriarra strain of myxoma virus and the ability of this virus to act as a safe, non-transmissible vaccine against myxomatosis was tested in outbred laboratory rabbits. Immunization with the M063 deletion vaccine provided good short-term protection against lethal challenge with virulent myxoma virus. Long-term protection was similar to reported results with heterologous live virus, with some rabbits protected but others succumbing to challenge. Replication-deficient poxvirus vaccines, like the Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara (MVA) in man and the myxoma virus vaccine described here in rabbits, are very attractive from a safety perspective. Seasonal boosting would be predicted to provide long-term protection. Targeted host-range gene deletions could have potential for rapid development of poxvirus vaccines in general.
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