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Marek's disease (MD) is a highly contagious, lymphoproliferative disease of chickens caused by the cell-associated MD virus (MDV), a member of the alphaherpesvirus subfamily. In a previous study we showed that the absence of the serine/threonine protein kinase (pU(S)3) encoded in the MDV unique-short region resulted in accumulation of primarily enveloped virions in the perinuclear space and significant impairment of virus growth in vitro. It was also shown that pU(S)3 is involved in actin stress fiber breakdown [Schumacher, D., Tischer, B. K., Trapp, S., and Osterrieder, N. (2005). Here, we constructed a recombinant virus to test the importance of pU(S)3 kinase activity for MDV replication and its functions in actin rearrangement. Disruption of the kinase active site was achieved by substituting a lysine at position 220 with an alanine (K220A). Titers of a kinase-negative MDV mutant, 20U(S)3()K220A, were reduced when compared to parental virus similar to those of the U(S)3 deletion mutant. We were also able to demonstrate complete absence of phosphorylation of MDV-specific phosphoprotein pp38 in cells infected with the kinase-deficient virus, indicating that pp38 phosphorylation depends entirely on the kinase activity of pU(S)3. Enzymatically inactive pU(S)3()K220A was, however, still capable of mediating breakdown of the actin cytoskeleton in transfection studies, and this activity was indistinguishable from that of wild-type pU(S)3(). Furthermore, we demonstrated that pU(S)3 possesses anti-apoptotic activity, which is dependent on its kinase activity. Taken together, our results demonstrate that pU(S)3 and MDV-specific phosphoprotein pp38 represent a kinase-substrate pair and that growth impairment in the absence of pU(S)3 is caused by the absence of kinase activity. The unaltered disruption of F-actin by the K220A pU(S)3 mutant suggests that F-actin disassembly is unrelated to MDV growth restrictions in the absence of the unique-short protein kinase.