Cytomegaloviruses are highly host restricted, resulting in cospeciation with their hosts. As a natural pathogen of rhesus macaques (RM), rhesus cytomegalovirus (RhCMV) has therefore emerged as a highly relevant experimental model for pathogenesis and vaccine development due to its close evolutionary relationship to human CMV (HCMV). Most in vivo experiments performed with RhCMV employed strain 68-1 cloned as a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC). However, the complete genome sequence of the 68-1 BAC has not been determined. Furthermore, the gene content of the RhCMV genome is unknown, and previous open reading frame (ORF) predictions relied solely on uninterrupted ORFs with an arbitrary cutoff of 300 bp. To obtain a more precise picture of the actual proteins encoded by the most commonly used molecular clone of RhCMV, we reevaluated the RhCMV 68-1 BAC genome by whole-genome shotgun sequencing and determined the protein content of the resulting RhCMV virions by proteomics. By comparing the RhCMV genome to those of several related Old World monkey (OWM) CMVs, we were able to filter out many unlikely ORFs and obtain a simplified map of the RhCMV genome. This comparative genomics analysis suggests a high degree of ORF conservation among OWM CMVs, thus decreasing the likelihood that ORFs found only in RhCMV comprise true genes. Moreover, virion proteomics independently validated the revised ORF predictions, since only proteins that were conserved across OWM CMVs could be detected. Taken together, these data suggest a much higher conservation of genome and virion structure between CMVs of humans, apes, and OWMs than previously assumed.
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