Extrachromosomal DNA in cancer

Nat Rev Cancer. 2024 Apr;24(4):261-273. doi: 10.1038/s41568-024-00669-8. Epub 2024 Feb 26.


Extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA) has recently been recognized as a major contributor to cancer pathogenesis that is identified in most cancer types and is associated with poor outcomes. When it was discovered over 60 years ago, ecDNA was considered to be rare, and its impact on tumour biology was not well understood. The application of modern imaging and computational techniques has yielded powerful new insights into the importance of ecDNA in cancer. The non-chromosomal inheritance of ecDNA during cell division results in high oncogene copy number, intra-tumoural genetic heterogeneity and rapid tumour evolution that contributes to treatment resistance and shorter patient survival. In addition, the circular architecture of ecDNA results in altered patterns of gene regulation that drive elevated oncogene expression, potentially enabling the remodelling of tumour genomes. The generation of clusters of ecDNAs, termed ecDNA hubs, results in interactions between enhancers and promoters in trans, yielding a new paradigm in oncogenic transcription. In this Review, we highlight the rapid advancements in ecDNA research, providing new insights into ecDNA biogenesis, maintenance and transcription and its role in promoting tumour heterogeneity. To conclude, we delve into a set of unanswered questions whose answers will pave the way for the development of ecDNA targeted therapeutic approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Oncogenes


  • DNA