Treatment-persistent residual tumors impede curative cancer therapy. To understand this cancer cell state we generated models of treatment persistence that simulate the residual tumors. We observe that treatment-persistent tumor cells in organoids, xenografts, and cancer patients adopt a distinct and reversible transcriptional program resembling that of embryonic diapause, a dormant stage of suspended development triggered by stress and associated with suppressed Myc activity and overall biosynthesis. In cancer cells, depleting Myc or inhibiting Brd4, a Myc transcriptional co-activator, attenuates drug cytotoxicity through a dormant diapause-like adaptation with reduced apoptotic priming. Conversely, inducible Myc upregulation enhances acute chemotherapeutic activity. Maintaining residual cells in dormancy after chemotherapy by inhibiting Myc activity or interfering with the diapause-like adaptation by inhibiting cyclin-dependent kinase 9 represent potential therapeutic strategies against chemotherapy-persistent tumor cells. Our study demonstrates that cancer co-opts a mechanism similar to diapause with adaptive inactivation of Myc to persist during treatment.
Keywords: CDK9; CRISPR; MYC; adaptation to stress; breast cancer; cancer; diapause; drug persistence; prostate cancer; residual tumor.
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