DNA mismatch repair in cancer

Marina Baretti, Dung T. Le

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Microsatellite instability (MSI) refers to the hypermutator phenotype secondary to frequent polymorphism in short repetitive DNA sequences and single nucleotide substitution, as consequence of DNA mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency. MSI secondary to germline mutation in DNA MMR proteins is the molecular fingerprint of Lynch syndrome (LS), while epigenetic inactivation of these genes is more commonly found in sporadic MSI tumors. MSI occurs at different frequencies across malignancies, although original methods to assess MSI or MMR deficiency have been developed mostly in LS related cancers. Here we will discuss the current methods to detect MSI/MMR deficiency with a focus of new tools which are emerging as highly sensitive detector for MSI across multiple tumor types. Due to high frequencies of non-synonymous mutations, the presence of frameshift-mutated neoantigens, which can trigger a more robust and long-lasting immune response and strong TIL infiltration with tumor eradication, MSI has emerged as an important predictor of sensitivity for immunotherapy-based strategies, as showed by the recent FDA's first histology agnostic-accelerated approval to immune checkpoint inhibitors for refractory, adult and pediatric, MMR deficient (dMMR) or MSI high (MSI-H) tumors. Moreover, it is known that MSI status may predict cancer response/resistance to certain chemotherapies. Here we will describe the complex interplay between the genetic and clinical-pathological features of MSI/dMMR tumors and the cancer immunotherapy, with a focus on the predictive and prognostic role of MMR status for immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) and providing some suggestions on how to conceive better predictive markers for immunotherapy in the next future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-62
Number of pages18
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Cancer immunotherapy
  • Immune checkpoint blockade
  • Microsatellite instability
  • Mismatch repair
  • Tumor mutation burden

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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