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 defi ciency 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 benefi t ratio for untargeted therapeutic intervention is narrow.
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