Identification of a Novel Myxoma Virus C7-Like Host Range Factor That Enabled a Species Leap from Rabbits to Hares

Ana Águeda-Pinto, Simona Kraberger, Anne Everts, Ami Gutierrez-Jensen, Honor L. Glenn, Kevin P. Dalton, Ana Podadera, Francisco Parra, Monica Martinez-Haro, José Alberto Viñuelas, Arvind Varsani, Grant McFadden, Masmudur M. Rahman, Pedro J. Esteves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Myxoma virus (MYXV) is naturally found in rabbit Sylvilagus species and is known to cause lethal myxomatosis in European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). In 2019, an MYXV strain (MYXV strain Toledo [MYXV-Tol]) causing myxomatosis-like disease in Iberian hares (Lepus granatensis) was identified. MYXV-Tol acquired a recombinant region of ;2.8 kb harboring several new genes, including a novel host range gene (M159) that we show to be an orthologous member of the vaccinia virus C7 host range family. Here, to test whether M159 alone has enabled MYXV to alter its host range to Iberian hares, several recombinant viruses were generated, including an MYXV-Tol DM159 (knockout) strain. While MYXV-Tol underwent fully productive infection in hare HN-R cells, neither the wild-type MYXV-Lau strain (lacking M159) nor vMyxTol-DM159 (deleted for M159) was able to infect and replicate, showing that the ability of MYXV-Tol to infect these cells and replicate depends on the presence of M159. Similar to other C7L family members, M159 was shown to be expressed as an early/late gene but was translocated into the nucleus at later time points, indicating that further studies are needed to elucidate its role in the nucleus. Finally, in rabbit cells, the M159 protein did not contribute to increased replication but was able to upregulate the replication levels of MYXV in nonpermissive and semipermissive human cancer cells, suggesting that the M159-targeted pathway is conserved across mammalian species. Altogether, these observations demonstrate that the M159 protein plays a critical role in determining the host specificity of MYXV-Tol in hare and human cells by imparting new host range functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • C7 family
  • M159 protein
  • Poxviridae
  • host range
  • leporids
  • myxoma virus
  • species leap

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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