Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cell lines, MIA PaCa-2, and UK Pan-1, were used to investigate the role of ErbB2 in PDAC oncogenesis. Both these cell lines exhibit exogenous growth factor-independent proliferation that was attributed to the production of autocrine growth factors and/or overexpression of growth factor receptors. The exogenous growth factor-independent phenotype displayed by these PDAC cell lines was dependent on ErbB2 kinase activity since treatment of cells with tyrphostin AG879 prevented serum-free media (SFM) induction of cell proliferation. We determined that ErbB2 kinase contributed to aberrant cell cycle regulation in PDAC through the induction of cyclin D1 levels and the suppression of p21(Cip1) and p27(Kip1). Inhibition of ErbB2 kinase led to cell cycle arrest marked by an increased association of p27(Kip1) with cdk2 and reduced levels of phosphorylated pRb. We further observed constitutive STAT3 activation in the PDAC cell lines and an increase in STAT3 activation upon stimulating quiescent cells with SFM. Inhibitors of ErbB2 kinase blocked STAT3 activation, whereas inhibition of EGFR kinase led to a slight reduction of STAT3 activation. STAT3 was coimmunoprecipitated with ErbB2. SFM stimulation caused an increase in the association of ErbB2 and STAT3, which was blocked by inhibition of ErbB2 kinase. Expression of a STAT3 dominant negative prevented SFM-stimulated cell proliferation of MIA PaCa-2 cells, suggesting that activation of STAT3 by ErbB2 is required for a growth factor-independent phenotype of these cells. Consistent with this observation in PDAC cell lines, we found that most PDAC tumor specimens (10 of 11) showed constitutive activation of STAT3 and that ErbB2 was readily detected in most of these tumors (nine of 11). We believe that these findings indicate a novel mechanism of oncogenesis in PDAC and may suggest future therapeutic strategies in the treatment of PDAC.