Blocking cancer genomic instability may prevent tumor diversification and escape from therapies. We show that, after MAPK inhibitor (MAPKi) therapy in patients and mice bearing patient-derived xenografts (PDX), acquired resistant genomes of metastatic cutaneous melanoma specifically amplify resistance-driver, nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ), and homologous recombination repair (HRR) genes via complex genomic rearrangements (CGR) and extrachromosomal DNAs (ecDNA). Almost all sensitive and acquired-resistant genomes harbor pervasive chromothriptic regions with disproportionately high mutational burdens and significant overlaps with ecDNA and CGR spans. Recurrently, somatic mutations within ecDNA and CGR amplicons enrich for HRR signatures, particularly within acquired resistant tumors. Regardless of sensitivity or resistance, breakpoint–junctional sequence analysis suggests NHEJ as critical to double-stranded DNA break repair underlying CGR and ecDNA formation. In human melanoma cell lines and PDXs, NHEJ targeting by a DNA-PKCS inhibitor prevents/delays acquired MAPKi resistance by reducing the size of ecDNAs and CGRs early on combination treatment. Thus, targeting the causes of genomic instability prevents acquired resistance.
Acquired resistance often results in heterogeneous, redundant survival mechanisms, which challenge strategies aimed at reversing resistance. Acquired-resistant melanomas recurrently evolve resistance-driving and resistance-specific amplicons via ecDNAs and CGRs, thereby nominating chromothripsis–ecDNA–CGR biogenesis as a resistance-preventive target. Specifically, targeting DNA-PKCS/NHEJ prevents resistance by suppressing ecDNA/CGR rearrangements in MAPKi-treated melanomas.