The highly attenuated vaccinia virus strain modified virus Ankara induces apoptosis in melanoma cells and allows bystander dendritic cells to generate a potent anti-tumoral immunity

Clin Exp Immunol. 2006 Nov;146(2):344-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2006.03177.x.


Vaccinia virus (VV) has been tested as oncolytic virus against malignant melanoma in clinical trials for more than 40 years. Until now, mainly strains comparable to viral strains used for smallpox vaccination have been probed for anti-tumoral therapy. We have shown recently that the wild-type strain Western Reserve (WR) can interfere with crucial functions of monocyte-derived dendritic cells (DCs). Our aim was to examine whether viral immune evasion mechanisms might be responsible for the ineffectiveness of WR-based vaccination strategies and whether the highly attenuated strain modified virus Ankara (MVA) differs from WR with respect to its possible immunostimulatory capacity after intratumoral injection. Using in vitro experiments, we compared the effect of both strains on melanoma cells and on local bystander DCs. We found that both VV-strains infected melanoma cells efficiently and caused disintegration of the actin cytoskeleton, as shown by fluorescence microscopy. In addition, both VV-strains caused apoptotic cell death in melanoma cells after infection. In contrast to MVA, WR underwent a complete viral replication cycle in melanoma cells. Bystander DCs were consecutively infected by newly generated WR virions and lost their capacity to induce allogeneic T cell proliferation. DCs in contact with MVA-infected melanoma cells retained their capacity to induce T cell proliferation. Immature DCs were capable of phagocytosing MVA-infected melanoma cells. Priming of autologous CD8(+) T cells by DCs that had phagocytosed MVA-infected, MelanA positive melanoma cells resulted in the induction of T cell clones specifically reactive against the model antigen MelanA as shown by enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) analysis. We conclude that the clinical trials with oncolytic wild-type VV failed probably because of suppression of bystander DCs and consecutive suppression of T cell-mediated anti-melanoma immunity. The attenuated VV-strain MVA facilitates the generation of tumour associated antigen (TAA)-specific T cell response as it is oncolytic for melanoma cells, but non-toxic for DC, and should be a promising candidate for intralesional metastatic melanoma therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Apoptosis / immunology*
  • Bystander Effect / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology*
  • Cytoskeleton / pathology
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / immunology*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Melanoma / virology
  • Phagocytosis
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Vaccines, Attenuated / immunology
  • Vaccinia virus / classification
  • Vaccinia virus / immunology*
  • Vaccinia virus / physiology
  • Virus Replication


  • Actins
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Vaccines, Attenuated