Glycoprotein M (gM) is one of the very few non-essential glycoproteins conserved throughout the herpesvirus family. Despite this conservation little is known about its function in virus replication. To test for the importance of gM in vivo in a natural virus-host system, 6-week-old piglets were intranasally infected with a gM- mutant of the alphaherpesvirus pseudorabies virus (PrV). Following infection virus excretion from the nasal mucosa was decreased ca. 100-fold compared to wild-type or revertant virus. Clinical signs were limited to transiently elevated temperature. In contrast, animals infected by wild-type or revertant virus exhibited high fever, severe respiratory symptoms and affliction of the central nervous system. Prior infection with gM-PrV conferred protection against challenge infection and animals mounted an antibody response against gM after wild-type virus infection. Thus, gM is important for efficient virus replication in vivo and deletion of gM may contribute to development of live attenuated, genetically marked vaccines.