Significant endocrine therapy-resistant tumor proliferation is present in ≥20% of estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) primary breast cancers and is associated with disease recurrence and death. Here, we uncover a link between intrinsic endocrine therapy resistance and dysregulation of the MutL mismatch repair (MMR) complex (MLH1/3, PMS1/2), and demonstrate a direct role for MutL complex loss in resistance to all classes of endocrine therapy. We find that MutL deficiency in ER+ breast cancer abrogates CHK2-mediated inhibition of CDK4, a prerequisite for endocrine therapy responsiveness. Consequently, CDK4/6 inhibitors (CDK4/6i) remain effective in MutL-defective ER+ breast cancer cells. These observations are supported by data from a clinical trial where a CDK4/6i was found to strongly inhibit aromatase inhibitor-resistant proliferation of MutL-defective tumors. These data suggest that diagnostic markers of MutL deficiency could be used to direct adjuvant CDK4/6i to a population of patients with breast cancer who exhibit marked resistance to the current standard of care.Significance: MutL deficiency in a subset of ER+ primary tumors explains why CDK4/6 inhibition is effective against some de novo endocrine therapy-resistant tumors. Therefore, markers of MutL dysregulation could guide CDK4/6 inhibitor use in the adjuvant setting, where the risk benefit ratio for untargeted therapeutic intervention is narrow. Cancer Discov; 7(10); 1168-83. ©2017 AACR.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1047.
©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.