Int J Biol Sci 2021; 17(4):1010-1025. doi:10.7150/ijbs.54614 This issue


Extrachromosomal Circular DNAs: Origin, formation and emerging function in Cancer

Man Wang, Xinzhe Chen, Fei Yu, Han Ding, Yuan Zhang, Kun Wang

Institute for Translational Medicine, The Affiliated Hospital of Qingdao University, College of Medicine, Qingdao University, Qingdao 266021, China.

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Wang M, Chen X, Yu F, Ding H, Zhang Y, Wang K. Extrachromosomal Circular DNAs: Origin, formation and emerging function in Cancer. Int J Biol Sci 2021; 17(4):1010-1025. doi:10.7150/ijbs.54614. Available from

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Graphic abstract

The majority of cellular DNAs in eukaryotes are organized into linear chromosomes. In addition to chromosome DNAs, genes also reside on extrachromosomal elements. The extrachromosomal DNAs are commonly found to be circular, and they are referred to as extrachromosomal circular DNAs (eccDNAs). Recent technological advances have enriched our knowledge of eccDNA biology. There is currently increasing concern about the connection between eccDNA and cancer. Gene amplification on eccDNAs is prevalent in cancer. Moreover, eccDNAs commonly harbor oncogenes or drug resistance genes, hence providing a growth or survival advantage to cancer cells. eccDNAs play an important role in tumor heterogeneity and evolution, facilitating tumor adaptation to challenging circumstances. In addition, eccDNAs have recently been identified as cell-free DNAs in circulating system. The altered level of eccDNAs is observed in cancer patients relative to healthy controls. Particularly, eccDNAs are associated with cancer progression and poor outcomes. Thus, eccDNAs could be useful as novel biomarkers for the diagnosis and prognosis of cancer. In this review, we summarize current knowledge regarding the formation, characteristics and biological importance of eccDNAs, with a focus on the molecular mechanisms associated with their roles in cancer progression. We also discuss their potential applications in the detection and treatment of cancer. A better understanding of the functional role of eccDNAs in cancer would facilitate the comprehensive analysis of molecular mechanisms involved in cancer pathogenesis.

Keywords: extrachromosomal circular DNAs, gene amplification, drug resistance, tumor heterogeneity, cancer pathogenesis