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Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a major human pathogen in the developing world. In the absence of an in vitro culture system, very little information exists on the basic biology of the virus. A small protein (approximately 13.5 kDa) of unknown function, pORF3, is encoded by the third open reading frame of HEV. We expressed pORF3 in transiently transfected COS-1 and Huh-7 cells and showed that it is a phosphoprotein which is modified at a serine residue(s). Deletion and site-directed mutants were created to establish Ser-80 as the phosphorylation site. This residue is present within a conserved primary sequence that showed consensus sites for phosphorylation by p34cdc2 kinase (cdc2K) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). In vitro experiments with hexahistidine-tagged pORF3 expressed either in Escherichia coli or in COS-1 cells showed efficient phosphorylation with exogenously added MAPK. The pORF3 mutants also exhibited an in vitro phosphorylation profile with MAPK which was identical to that observed in vivo. In its primary sequence, pORF3 possesses two highly hydrophobic N-terminal domains. On subcellular fractionation, pORF3 was found to partition with the cytoskeletal fraction, and this association with the cytoskeleton was lost on deletion of hydrophobic domain I (amino acid residues 1 to 32). These results suggest that HEV pORF3 is a cytoskeleton-associated phosphoprotein and are discussed in terms of a possible function for pORF3 within the HEV replicative cycle.