Myxomatosis in European rabbits is a severely debilitating disease characterized by profound systemic cellular immunosuppression and a high rate of mortality. The causative agent, myxoma virus, is a member of the poxvirus family and prototype of the Leporipoxvirus genus. As a major step toward defining the genetic strategies by which the virus circumvents host antiviral responses, the genomic DNA sequence of myxoma virus, strain Lausanne, was determined. A total of 171 open reading frames were assigned to cover the 161.8-kb genome, including two copies each of the 12 genes that map within the 11.5-kb terminal inverted repeats. Database searches revealed a central core of approximately 120 kb that encodes more than 100 genes that exhibit close relationships to the conserved genes of members of other poxvirus genera. Open reading frames with predicted signal sequences, localization motifs, or homology to known proteins with immunomodulatory or host-range functions were examined more extensively for predicted features such as hydrophobic regions, nucleic acid binding domains, ankyrin repeats, serpin signatures, lectin domains, and structural cysteine spacings. As a result, several novel, potentially immunomodulatory proteins have been identified, including a family with multiple ankyrin-repeat domains, an OX-2 like member of the neural cell adhesion molecule family, a third myxoma serpin, a putative chemokine receptor fragment, two natural killer receptor-like species, and a variety of species with domains closely related to diverse host immune regulatory proteins. Coupled with the genomic sequencing of the related leporipoxvirus Shope fibroma virus, this work affirms the existence of a conserved complement of poxvirus-specific core genes and expands the growing repertoire of virus genes that confer the unique capacity of each poxvirus family member to counter the immune responses of the infected host.
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