Murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV-68) is a relatively recently discovered pathogen of wild rodents and provides a unique opportunity to explore in detail the interactions of a gammaherpesvirus with its natural host. It may also provide a much needed small animal model for human gammaherpesviruses. As a step in the detailed analysis of virus gene structure and expression we have sequenced over 20 kb of the MHV-68 genome and mapped gene transcripts by Northern blot hybridization. The region we chose to analyse contains several conserved gene blocks as well as some less well conserved genes and allowed us to estimate the relationship of this virus to other herpesvirus family members. Of particular interest is the fact that none of the characteristic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genes is present at this genomic locus although MHV-68 does have one gene encoding a membrane glycoprotein, 9p150, which shows similarities to the major membrane glycoprotein of EBV. Our results further confirm that MHV-68 is a gammaherpesvirus marginally more closely related to a cluster of gammaherpesviruses including herpesvirus salmiri than to EBV. Northern analysis shows that the temporal regulation of expression is broadly similar to that of other herpesviruses in this region of the genome. We also show that like other gammaherpesviruses, MHV-68 splices its homologue of the EBV transcriptional activator gene BMRF1.


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