In order to analyze the function of VPg amplification in aphthoviruses, we have undertaken the first mutational analysis of the repetitive VPg-coding region using an improved foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) cDNA clone from which infective viral RNA was synthesized. A set of VPg mutants was constructed by site-directed mutagenesis which includes different VPg deletion mutations, a VPg insertion mutation, and amino acid residue replacement mutations that interfere with binding of the VPg protein to the viral RNA and with its proteolytic processing. Our results revealed that an amazing flexibility in the number of VPgs is tolerated in FMDV. Optimal viability is given when three VPgs are encoded. Deletion as well as insertion of one VPg gene still resulted in infective particle production. Infective particle formation was observed as long as one VPg remained intact. No obvious differences in the individual VPg molecules with regard to their promoting viral RNA synthesis were observed, indicating that all three VPgs can act equally in FMDV replication. Mutant polyprotein processing was comparable to that of the wild-type virus. However, VPg mutants showed reduced viral RNA synthesis levels after infection. The levels of viral RNA synthesis and infective particle formation were found to correlate with the number of functional VPgs left in the mutant virus. These findings suggest a direct VPg gene dosage effect on viral RNA synthesis, with a secondary effect on infective particle formation.