Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection accelerates transplant vascular sclerosis (TVS) and chronic rejection (CR) in both human and animal solid organ transplantation models. The host/viral mechanisms involved in this process are unclear. We examine the role of the rat CMV (RCMV)-encoded chemokine-receptor R33 in the development of TVS using a rat heart transplantation/CR model. F344 heart grafts were transplanted heterotopically into Lewis recipients. The ability of RCMV lacking the R33 gene (RCMV-Deltar33) to accelerate CR/TVS (neointimal index, NI) was compared to wild-type (WT) RCMV. Allograft recipients were infected with 1 x 10(5) pfu RCMV or RCMV-Deltar33 on postoperative day (POD) 1. Grafts from RCMV-Deltar33-infected recipients demonstrated an accelerated time to allograft CR compared to grafts from uninfected recipients (POD = 56 vs. 90), this was slower than that seen in grafts from WT-RCMV-infected recipients (POD = 45). Similarly, the degree of graft TVS formation at terminal rejection in RMCV-Deltar33 infected recipients was more severe than uninfected recipients (NI = 63 vs. 45), yet not as severe as in WT-RCMV infected recipients (NI = 83). In parallel, RCMV-Deltar33 failed to induce vascular smooth muscle cell (SMC) migration in vitro, whereas WT-RCMV induced substantial migration. The RCMV-encoded chemokine-receptor r33 is critical for RCMV-accelerated TVS/CR and vascular SMC migration.