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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

The current status and future directions of myxoma virus, a master in immune evasion

Bart Spiesschaert1*, Grant McFadden2, Katleen Hermans3, Hans Nauwynck1 and Gerlinde R Van de Walle4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Virology, Parasitology and Immunology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Salisburylaan 133, B-9820 Merelbeke, Belgium

2 Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Florida College of Medicine, 1600 SW Archer Rd, P.O. Box 100266, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA

3 Department of Pathology, Bacteriology and Poultry diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Salisburylaan 133, B-9820 Merelbeke, Belgium

4 Department of Comparative Physiology and Biometrics, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Salisburylaan 133, B-9820 Merelbeke, Belgium

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Veterinary Research 2011, 42:76  doi:10.1186/1297-9716-42-76

Published: 9 June 2011

Abstract

Myxoma virus (MYXV) gained importance throughout the twentieth century because of the use of the highly virulent Standard Laboratory Strain (SLS) by the Australian government in the attempt to control the feral Australian population of Oryctolagus cuniculus (European rabbit) and the subsequent illegal release of MYXV in Europe. In the European rabbit, MYXV causes a disease with an exceedingly high mortality rate, named myxomatosis, which is passively transmitted by biting arthropod vectors. MYXV still has a great impact on European rabbit populations around the world. In contrast, only a single cutaneous lesion, restricted to the point of inoculation, is seen in its natural long-term host, the South-American Sylvilagus brasiliensis and the North-American S. Bachmani. Apart from being detrimental for European rabbits, however, MYXV has also become of interest in human medicine in the last two decades for two reasons. Firstly, due to the strong immune suppressing effects of certain MYXV proteins, several secreted virus-encoded immunomodulators (e.g. Serp-1) are being developed to treat systemic inflammatory syndromes such as cardiovascular disease in humans. Secondly, due to the inherent ability of MYXV to infect a broad spectrum of human cancer cells, the live virus is also being developed as an oncolytic virotherapeutic to treat human cancer. In this review, an update will be given on the current status of MYXV in rabbits as well as its potential in human medicine in the twenty-first century.