Murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV-68) is closely related to Epstein-Barr virus and Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) and provides a small-animal model to study the pathogenesis of gammaherpesvirus (gamma HV) infections. According to the colinear organization of the gamma HV genomes, the M10 locus is situated at a position equivalent to the K12 locus of KSHV, which codes for proteins of the kaposin family. The M10 locus of MHV-68 has been predicted to code for three overlapping open reading frames (M10a, M10b, and M10c [M10a-c]) with unknown function. In addition, the M10 locus contains a lytic origin of replication (oriLyt). To elucidate the function of the M10 locus during lytic and latent infections, we investigated, both in vitro and in vivo, the following four recombinant viruses which were generated using MHV-68 cloned as a bacterial artificial chromosome: (i) a mutant virus with a deletion which affects both the coding region for M10a-c and the oriLyt; (ii) a revertant virus in which both the M10a-c coding region and the oriLyt were reverted to those of the wild type; (iii) a virus with an ectopic insertion of the oriLyt, which restores the function of the oriLyt but not the M10a-c coding region; and (iv) a mutant virus with a deletion in the oriLyt only. While the mutants were slightly attenuated with regard to lytic replication in cell culture, they showed severe growth defects in vivo. Both lytic replication and latency amplification were strongly reduced. In contrast, both the revertant virus and the virus with the ectopic oriLyt insertion grew very similarly to the parental wild-type virus both in vitro and in vivo. Thus, we provide genetic evidence that mutation of the oriLyt, and not of putative protein coding sequences within the M10a-c region, is responsible for the observed phenotype. We conclude that the oriLyt in the M10 locus plays an important role during infection of mice with MHV-68.