Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is the most lethal form of human cancer, with dismal survival rates due to late-stage diagnoses and a lack of efficacious therapies. Building on the observation that avian influenza A viruses (IAVs) have a tropism for the pancreas in vivo, the present study was aimed at testing the efficacy of IAVs as oncolytic agents for killing human PDA cell lines. Receptor characterization confirmed that human PDA cell lines express the alpha-2,3- and the alpha-2,6-linked glycan receptor for avian and human IAVs, respectively. PDA cell lines were sensitive to infection by human and avian IAV isolates, which is consistent with this finding. Growth kinetic experiments showed preferential virus replication in PDA cells over that in a nontransformed pancreatic ductal cell line. Finally, at early time points posttreatment, infection with IAVs caused higher levels of apoptosis in PDA cells than gemcitabine and cisplatin, which are the cornerstone of current therapies for PDA. In the BxPC-3 PDA cell line, apoptosis resulted from the engagement of the intrinsic mitochondrial pathway. Importantly, IAVs did not induce apoptosis in nontransformed pancreatic ductal HPDE6 cells. Using a model based on the growth of a PDA cell line as a xenograft in SCID mice, we also show that a slightly pathogenic avian IAV significantly inhibited tumor growth following intratumoral injection. Taken together, these results are the first to suggest that IAVs may hold promise as future agents of oncolytic virotherapy against pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas.
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