Many Chordopoxviruses encode catalytically inactive homologs of cellular Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD). The biological function of these proteins is unknown, although the proteins encoded by Leporipoxviruses have been shown to promote a slow decline in the level of superoxide dismutase activity in virus-infected cells. To gain more insights into their function, we have further characterized the enzymatic and biochemical properties of a SOD homolog encoded by Shope fibroma virus. Shope fibroma virus SOD has retained the zinc binding properties of its cellular homolog, but cannot bind copper. Site-directed mutagenesis showed that it requires at least four amino acid substitutions to partially restore copper binding activity, but even these changes still did not restore catalytic activity. Reciprocal co-immunoprecipitation experiments showed that recombinant Shope fibroma virus SOD forms very stable complexes with cellular copper chaperones for SOD and these observations were confirmed using glutathione-S-transferase tagged proteins. Similar viral SOD/chaperone complexes were formed in cells infected with a closely related myxoma virus, where we also noted that some of the SOD antigen co-localizes with mitochondrial markers using confocal fluorescence microscopy. About 2% of the viral SOD was subsequently detected in gradient-purified mitochondria extracted from virus-infected cells. These poxviral SOD homologs do not form stable complexes with cellular Cu,Zn-SOD or affect its concentration. We suggest that Leporipoxvirus SOD homologs are catalytically inert decoy proteins that are designed to interfere in the proper metallation and activation of cellular Cu,Zn-SOD. This reaction might be advantageous for tumorigenic poxviruses, since higher levels of superoxide have been proposed to have anti-apoptotic and tumorigenic activity.