Feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1) mutants were constructed, carrying a β-galactosidase marker gene integrated into the region downstream of the gene encoding the homologue of glycoprotein C (gC) of herpes simplex virus type 1. In cell culture, no differences in replication were observed between mutants and the parent FHV-1 strain. However, in experimentally infected cats, mutants caused fewer clinical signs after oronasal administration although they replicated to the same extent as the parental strain. Sequence analysis in the region of the U segment surrounding the insertion site revealed an open reading frame (ORF 2) encoding a putative polypeptide of 21K. RNA analysis indicated a corresponding transcript of 0.8 kb that was detected late after infection of cells in culture. This particular U locus downstream of the gC gene has not been thoroughly investigated in any of the herpesviruses. The putative gene product showed only limited evolutionary conservation since similarity could be found only with the assumed homologue of equine herpesvirus type 1. Further characterization of this newly identified FHV-1 gene involved in virulence may provide insight into the development of disease owing to herpesvirus infection.


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