The drug-tolerant persister (DTP) state enables cancer cells to evade cytotoxic stress from anticancer therapy. However, the mechanisms governing DTP generation remain poorly understood. Here, we observed that lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD) cells and organoids entered a quiescent DTP state to survive MAPK inhibitor treatment. DTP cells following MAPK inhibition underwent a metabolic switch from glycolysis to oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). PTEN-induced kinase 1 (PINK1), a serine/threonine kinase that initiates mitophagy, was upregulated to maintain mitochondrial homeostasis during DTP generation. PINK1-mediated mitophagy supported DTP cell survival and contributed to poor prognosis. Mechanistically, MAPK pathway inhibition resulted in MYC-dependent transcriptional upregulation of PINK1, leading to mitophagy activation. Mitophagy inhibition using either clinically applicable chloroquine or depletion of PINK1 eradicated drug tolerance and allowed complete response to MAPK inhibitors. This study uncovers PINK1-mediated mitophagy as a novel tumor protective mechanism for DTP generation, providing a therapeutic opportunity to eradicate DTP and achieve complete responses.


DTP cancer cells that cause relapse after anticancer therapy critically depend on PINK1-mediated mitophagy and metabolic reprogramming, providing a therapeutic opportunity to eradicate persister cells to prolong treatment efficacy.

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