Rabbitpox virus (RPXV) is highly virulent for rabbits and it has long been suspected to be a close relative of vaccinia virus. To explore these questions, the complete coding region of the rabbitpox virus genome was sequenced to permit comparison with sequenced strains of vaccinia virus and other orthopoxviruses. The genome of RPXV strain Utrecht (RPXV-UTR) is 197 731 nucleotides long, excluding the terminal hairpin structures at each end of the genome. The RPXV-UTR genome has 66.5 % A+T content, 184 putative functional genes and 12 fragmented ORF regions that are intact in other orthopoxviruses. The sequence of the RPXV-UTR genome reveals that two RPXV-UTR genes have orthologues in variola virus (VARV; the causative agent of smallpox), but not in vaccinia virus (VACV) strains. These genes are a zinc RING finger protein gene (RPXV-UTR-008) and an ankyrin repeat family protein gene (RPXV-UTR-180). A third gene, encoding a chemokine-binding protein (RPXV-UTR-001/184), is complete in VARV but functional only in some VACV strains. Examination of the evolutionary relationship between RPXV and other orthopoxviruses was carried out using the central 143 kb DNA sequence conserved among all completely sequenced orthopoxviruses and also the protein sequences of 49 gene products present in all completely sequenced chordopoxviruses. The results of these analyses both confirm that RPXV-UTR is most closely related to VACV and suggest that RPXV has not evolved directly from any of the sequenced VACV strains, since RPXV contains a 719 bp region not previously identified in any VACV. © 2005 SGM.