Extrachromosomal DNA - relieving heredity constraints, accelerating tumour evolution


Oncogene amplification on extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA) provides a mechanism by which cancer cells can rapidly adapt to changes in the tumour microenvironment. These circular structures contain oncogenes and their regulatory elements, and, lacking centromeres, they are subject to unequal segregation during mitosis. This non-Mendelian mechanism of inheritance results in increased tumour heterogeneity with daughter cells that can contain increasingly amplified oncogene copy number. These structures also contain favourable epigenetic modifications including transcriptionally active chromatin, further fuelling positive selection. ecDNA drives aggressive tumour behaviour, is related to poorer survival outcomes and provides mechanisms of drug resistance. Recent evidence suggests one in four solid tumours contain cells with ecDNA structures. The concept of tumour evolution is one in which cancer cells compete to survive in a diverse tumour microenvironment under the Darwinian principles of variation and fitness heritability. Unconstrained by conventional segregation constraints, ecDNA can accelerate intratumoural heterogeneity and cellular fitness. In this review, we highlight some of the recent discoveries underpinning this process.

Journal details

Volume 31
Issue number 7
Pages 884-893
Available online
Publication date