Herpesviruses, such as murine and human cytomegalovirus (MCMV and HCMV), can establish a persistent infection within the host and have diverse mechanisms as protection from host immune defences. Several herpesvirus genes that are homologous to host immune modulators have been identified, and are implicated in viral evasion of the host immune response. The discovery of a viral major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I homologue, encoded by HCMV, led to speculation that it might function as an immune modulator and disrupt presentation of peptides by MHC class I to cytotoxic T cells. However, there is no evidence concerning the biological significance of this gene during viral infection. Recent analysis of the MCMV genome has also demonstrated the presence of a MHC class I homologue. Here we show that a recombinant MCMV, in which the gene encoding the class I homologue has been disrupted, has severely restricted replication during the acute stage of infection compared with wild-type MCMV. We demonstrate by in vivo depletion studies that natural killer (NK) cells are responsible for the attenuated phenotype of the mutant. Thus the viral MHC class I homologue contributes to immune evasion through interference with NK cell-mediated clearance.