Minimal residual disease in cancer therapy - Small things make all the difference

Blatter, Sohvi; Rottenberg, Sven (2015). Minimal residual disease in cancer therapy - Small things make all the difference. Drug Resistance Updates, 21-22, pp. 1-10. Churchill Livingstone 10.1016/j.drup.2015.08.003

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Minimal residual disease (MRD) is a major hurdle in the eradication of malignant tumors. Despite the high sensitivity of various cancers to treatment, some residual cancer cells persist and lead to tumor recurrence and treatment failure. Obvious reasons for residual disease include mechanisms of secondary therapy resistance, such as the presence of mutant cells that are insensitive to the drugs, or the presence of cells that become drug resistant due to activation of survival pathways. In addition to such unambiguous resistance modalities, several patients with relapsing tumors do not show refractory disease and respond again when the initial therapy is repeated. These cases cannot be explained by the selection of mutant tumor cells, and the precise mechanisms underlying this clinical drug resistance are ill-defined. In the current review, we put special emphasis on cell-intrinsic and -extrinsic mechanisms that may explain mechanisms of MRD that are independent of secondary therapy resistance. In particular, we show that studying genetically engineered mouse models (GEMMs), which highly resemble the disease in humans, provides a complementary approach to understand MRD. In these animal models, specific mechanisms of secondary resistance can be excluded by targeted genetic modifications. This allows a clear distinction between the selection of cells with stable secondary resistance and mechanisms that result in the survival of residual cells but do not provoke secondary drug resistance. Mechanisms that may explain the latter feature include special biochemical defense properties of cancer stem cells, metabolic peculiarities such as the dependence on autophagy, drug-tolerant persisting cells, intratumoral heterogeneity, secreted factors from the microenvironment, tumor vascularization patterns and immunosurveillance-related factors. We propose in the current review that a common feature of these various mechanisms is cancer cell dormancy. Therefore, dormant cancer cells appear to be an important target in the attempt to eradicate residual cancer cells, and eventually cure patients who repeatedly respond to anticancer therapy but lack complete tumor eradication.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Research Foci > Host-Pathogen Interaction
05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathobiology (DIP) > Institute of Animal Pathology
05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathobiology (DIP)

Graduate School:

Graduate School for Cellular and Biomedical Sciences (GCB)

UniBE Contributor:

Blatter, Sohvi Tuulikki, Rottenberg, Sven


600 Technology > 630 Agriculture




Churchill Livingstone




Barbara Gautschi-Steffen

Date Deposited:

15 Feb 2016 11:38

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:27

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Minimal residual disease; Drug resistance; Drug tolerance; Genetically engineered mouse models; BRCA1; Cancer dormancy; Cancer stem cells; Autophagy; Microenvironment




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