Acute-phase sera from >5 % of cases of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome occurring annually in Korea have been found to exhibit a fourfold or higher antibody titre to Puumala virus (PUUV) than to Hantaan virus (HTNV) by double-sandwich IgM ELISA, suggesting the existence of a PUUV-related hantavirus. Based on the phylogenetic relationships among arvicolid rodents, the royal vole (Myodes regulus) was targeted as a likely reservoir host of hantavirus. Using RT-PCR, a genetically distinct hantavirus, designated Muju virus (MUJV), was detected in lung tissue of royal voles, captured in widely separated geographical regions in Korea during 1996-2007. Pairwise analysis of the full-length S (1857 nt) and M (3634 nt) segments of MUJV indicated approximately 77 % sequence similarity with PUUV. At the amino acid level, MUJV differed from PUUV by 5.5-6.9 % (nucleocapsid) and 10.0-11.6 % (Gn and Gc envelope glycoproteins). Interstrain variation of MUJV sequences from royal voles captured in different regions suggested geographic-specific clustering. Neutralizing antibody titres against PUUV were two- to sixfold higher than to HTNV in sera of MUJV-infected Myodes regulus. Although virus isolation attempts were unsuccessful, the collective data indicate that MUJV is a distinct hantavirus species.