Tumorigenic leporipoxviruses encode catalytically inactive homologs of cellular Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1). The function of the orthologous myxoma virus M131R and Shope fibroma virus S131R gene products is uncertain, but they inhibit SOD1 activity by a process linked to binding its copper chaperone. Using a superoxide-sensitive dye (hydroethidine), we observed that virus infection increased intracellular superoxide levels in an M/S131R-dependent manner. To see whether this effect promotes infection, we deleted the Shope fibroma virus S131R gene and compared the clinical manifestations of wild-type and mutant virus infections in rabbits. S131RDelta virus produced significantly smaller fibroxanthosarcoma-like growths in vivo and, at a point where these growths were already receding, wild-type infections still showed extensive leukocyte infiltration, necrosis, and fibromatous cell proliferation. Coincidentally, whereas Jurkat cells are protected from mitochondria- and Fas-mediated apoptosis by wild-type myxoma virus in vitro, M131RDelta virus could not block Fas-initiated apoptosis as judged by DNA laddering, terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase-mediated dUTP-fluorescein nick end labeling, and caspase 3 cleavage assays. These data suggest that tumorigenic poxviruses can modulate intracellular redox status to their advantage to stimulate infected cell growth and inhibit programmed cell death.