This report describes the identification of a murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) G protein-coupled receptor (GCR) homolog. This open reading frame (M33) is most closely related to, and collinear with, human cytomegalovirus UL33, and homologs are also present in human herpesvirus 6 and 7 (U12 for both viruses). Conserved counterparts in the sequenced alpha- or gammaherpesviruses have not been identified to date, suggesting that these genes encode proteins which are important for the biological characteristics of betaherpesviruses. We have detected transcripts for both UL33 and M33 as early as 3 or 4 h postinfection, and these reappear at late times. In addition, we have identified N-terminal splicing for both the UL33 and M33 RNA transcripts. For both open reading frames, splicing results in the introduction of amino acids which are highly conserved among known GCRs. To characterise the function of the M33 in the natural host, two independent MCMV recombinant viruses were prepared, each of which possesses an M33 open reading frame which has been disrupted with the beta-galactosidase gene. While the recombinant M33 null viruses showed no phenotypic differences in replication from wild-type MCMV in primary mouse embryo fibroblasts in vitro, they showed severely restricted growth in the salivary glands of infected mice. These data suggest that M33 plays an important role in vivo, in particular in the dissemination to or replication in the salivary gland, and provide the first evidence for the function of a viral GCR homolog in vivo.