The study of 'molecular mimicry' or 'genetic piracy', with respect to the utilisation of cellular genes captured and modified during the course of virus evolution, has been an area of increasing research with the expansion in virus genome sequencing. Examples of cellular immunomodulatory genes which have been captured from hosts have been identified in a number of viruses. This review concentrates upon studies of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV), investigating the functions of viral genes homologous to G protein-coupled receptors, MHC class I and chemokines. The study of recombinant MCMV engineered with specific disruptions of these genes has revealed their significance during virus replication and dissemination within the host. In the case of the latter two classes of genes, evidence suggests they interfere with cellular immune responses, although the detailed mechanisms underlying this interference have yet to be delineated. Copyright (C) 2000 S. Karger AG, Basel.