To identify therapeutic opportunities for oncolytic viral therapy, we conducted genome-wide RNAi screens to search for host factors that modulate rhabdoviral oncolysis. Our screens uncovered the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response pathways as important modulators of rhabdovirus-mediated cytotoxicity. Further investigation revealed an unconventional mechanism whereby ER stress response inhibition preconditioned cancer cells, which sensitized them to caspase-2-dependent apoptosis induced by a subsequent rhabdovirus infection. Importantly, this mechanism was tumor cell specific, selectively increasing potency of the oncolytic virus by up to 10,000-fold. In vivo studies using a small molecule inhibitor of IRE1α showed dramatically improved oncolytic efficacy in resistant tumor models. Our study demonstrates proof of concept for using functional genomics to improve biotherapeutic agents for cancer.
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