Sequence data for eight genes, together with time-course Northern blotting and 3′- and 5′-RACE (rapid amplification of cDNA ends) analysis for some mRNAs from a 12 kb region upstream from the major immediate-early (MIE) genes of the English isolate of rat cytomegalovirus (RCMV), are presented. The results identified important differences compared to both murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) and the Maastricht isolate of RCMV. A striking finding is the presence of a highly conserved, rightwards-oriented homologue of the rat cellular CD200 (OX2) gene immediately to the right of the MIE region, which replaces either the leftwards-oriented AAV REP gene of RCMV (Maastricht) or the upstream spliced portions of the immediate-early 2 gene (ie2) in MCMV. From the presence of other homologues of MCMV- and RCMV-specific genes, such as the β-chemokineMCK-2, SGG1 and an Fcγ receptor gene, as reported here, the basic architecture of the MIE region (reported previously) and the level of IE2 and DNA polymerase (POL) protein conservation in phylogenetic analyses, it is clear that the English strain of RCMV is also a member of the genus Muromegalovirus, but is a β-herpesvirus species that is very distinct from both MCMV and RCMV (Maastricht). Both the lack of a CD200 homologue in the other two rodent viruses and the depth of sequence divergence of the rodent CMV IE2 and POL proteins suggest that these three viruses have evolved as separate species in the genus Muromegalovirus since very early in the host rodent lineage.
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