The epidermal growth factor (EGF) homologues encoded by vaccinia virus, myxoma virus, and malignant rabbit fibroma virus have been shown to contribute to the pathogenicity of virus infection upon inoculation of susceptible hosts. However, since the primary structures of these growth factors and the disease profiles induced by different poxvirus genera vary substantially, the degree to which the various EGF homologues perform similar roles in viral pathogenesis remains unclear. In order to determine whether different EGF-like growth factors can perform qualitatively similar functions in the induction of myxomatosis in rabbits, we created recombinant myxoma virus variants in which the native growth factor, myxoma growth factor (MGF), was disrupted and replaced with either vaccinia virus growth factor, Shope fibroma growth factor, or rat transforming growth factor alpha. Unlike the control virus containing an inactivated MGF gene, which caused marked attenuation of the disease syndrome and substantially less proliferation of the epithelial cell layers in the conjunctiva and respiratory tract, the recombinant myxoma virus strains expressing heterologous growth factors produced infections which were both clinically and histopathologically indistinguishable from wild-type myxomatosis. We conclude that these poxviral and cellular EGF-like growth factors, which are diverse with respect to primary structure and origin, have similar biological functions in the context of myxoma virus pathogenesis and are mitogenic for the same target cells.
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