Rabbit IL-4 was expressed in the virulent standard laboratory strain (SLS) and the attenuated Uriarra (Ur) strain of myxoma virus with the aim of creating a Th2 cytokine environment and inhibiting the development of an antiviral cell-mediated response to myxomatosis in infected rabbits. This allowed testing of a model for genetic resistance to myxomatosis in wild rabbits that have undergone 50 years of natural selection for resistance to myxomatosis. Expression of IL-4 significantly enhanced virulence of both virulent and attenuated virus strains in susceptible (laboratory) and resistant (wild) rabbits. SLS-IL-4 completely overcame genetic resistance in wild rabbits. The pathogenesis of SLS-IL-4 was compared in susceptible and resistant rabbits. The results support a model for resistance to myxomatosis of an enhanced innate immune response controlling virus replication and allowing an effective antiviral cell-mediated immune response to develop in resistant rabbits. Expression of IL-4 did not overcome immunity to myxomatosis induced by immunization. © 2004 Published by Elsevier Inc.