We have recently generated a pool of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) mutants by using a Tn3-based transposon mutagenesis approach. In this study, one of the mutants, Rvm166, which contained the transposon sequence at open reading frame m166, was characterized both in tissue culture and in immunocompetent BALB/c mice and immunodeficient SCID mice. The viral mutant replicated as well as the wild-type Smith strain in vitro in NIH 3T3 cells, whereas the transposon insertion precluded the expression of >65% of the m166 open reading frame. Compared to the wild-type strain and a rescued virus that restored the m166 region, the viral mutant was significantly attenuated in growth in both BALB/c and SCID mice that were intraperitoneally infected with the viruses. At 21 days postinfection, the titers of the viral mutant in the salivary glands, lungs, spleens, livers, and kidneys of the infected SCID mice were lower than the titers of the Smith strain and the rescued virus by about 30,000-, 10,000-, 1,000-, 300-, and 800-fold, respectively. Moreover, the virulence of the mutant virus appears to be severely attenuated because no death was found in SCID mice infected with the viral mutant up to 90 days postinfection, whereas all of the animals infected with the wild-type and rescued viruses died at 27 days postinfection. Our results suggest that m166 probably encodes a virulence factor and is required for MCMV virulence in killing SCID mice and for optimal viral growth in vivo.