The vaccinia virus (VV) N1L gene encodes a protein of 14 kDa that was identified previously in the concentrated supernatant of virus-infected cells. Here we show that the protein is present predominantly (>90%) within cells rather than in the culture supernatant and it exists as a non-glycosylated, non-covalent homodimer. The N1L protein present in the culture supernatant was uncleaved at the N terminus and was released from cells more slowly than the VV A41L gene product, a secreted glycoprotein that has a conventional signal peptide. Bioinformatic analyses predict that the N1L protein is largely alpha-helical and show that it is conserved in many VV strains, in other orthopoxviruses and in members of other chordopoxvirus genera. However, database searches found no non-poxvirus proteins with significant amino acid similarity to N1L. A deletion mutant lacking the N1L gene replicated normally in cell culture, but was attenuated in intranasal and intradermal murine models compared to wild-type and revertant controls. The conservation of the N1L protein and the attenuated phenotype of the deletion mutant indicate an important role in the virus life-cycle.