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Patient-derived xenografts undergo murine-specific tumor evolution

By Uri Ben-David, Gavin Ha, Yuen-Yi Tseng, Noah F. Greenwald, Coyin Oh, Juliann Shih, James M. McFarland, Bang Wong, Jesse S. Boehm, Rameen Beroukhim, Todd R. Golub

Posted 24 Jul 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/167767 (published DOI: 10.1038/ng.3967)

Patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) have become a prominent model for studying human cancer in vivo. The underlying assumption is that PDXs faithfully represent the genomic features of primary tumors, retaining their molecular characteristics throughout propagation. However, the genomic stability of PDXs during passaging has not yet been evaluated systematically. Here we monitored the dynamics of copy number alterations (CNAs) in 1,110 PDX samples across 24 cancer types. We found that new CNAs accumulated quickly, such that within four passages an average of 12% of the genome was affected by newly acquired CNAs. Selection for pre-existing minor clones was a major contributor to these changes, leading to both gains and losses of CNAs. The rate of CNA acquisition in PDX models was correlated with the extent of both aneuploidy and genetic heterogeneity observed in primary tumors of the same tissue. However, the specific CNAs acquired during PDX passaging differed from those acquired during tumor evolution in patients, suggesting that PDX tumors are subjected to distinct selection pressures compared to those that exist in human hosts. Specifically, several recurrent CNAs observed in primary tumors gradually disappeared in PDXs, indicating that events undergoing positive selection in humans can become dispensable during propagation in mice. Finally, we found that the genomic stability of PDX models also affected their responses to chemotherapy and targeted drugs. Our findings thus highlight the need to couple the timing of PDX molecular characterization to that of drug testing experiments. These results suggest that while PDX models are powerful tools, they should be used with caution.

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