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Equid herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) was shown to use an unusual receptor for cellular entry - MHC-I molecules. Here, we demonstrated that the closely related EHV, EHV-4, also uses this strategy for cellular invasion, both in equine cells in culture and in the heterologous, non-permissive murine mastocytoma cell line (P815) after stable transfection with horse MHC-I genes. Using a panel of P815 cell lines transfected with individual horse MHC-I genes, we provided support for the hypothesis that EHV-1 and EHV-4 target classical polymorphic MHC-I molecules as viral entry receptors. All known equine MHC-I molecules from the two principal classical polymorphic loci specify alanine at position 173 (A173), whilst other MHC-I loci encoded different amino acids at this position and did not permit viral entry. Site-directed mutagenesis of position 173 diminished or enhanced viral entry, depending upon the initial amino acid. However, there were other, as yet undefined, constraints to this process: MHC-I genes from two non-classical loci carried A173 but did not enable viral entry in P815 transfectants. Our study suggested that the capacity to bind MHC-I molecules arose in the common ancestor of EHV-1 and EHV-4. The widespread occurrence of A173 in classical polymorphic horse MHC-I molecules indicated that horses of most MHC haplotypes should be susceptible to infection via this entry portal.